The coca plant may come off as innocent with its bright red beads and perky green leaves, but the friendly exterior masks the soul of a deviant. Or so, we thought.
Coca Got Roots
The “coca” plant refers to two species amongst the 230 in the Erythroxylum genus.
As the oldest cultivated medicinal plants species on Earth, we can trace back coca usage over 8000 years. Coca is not a new drug. It is a substance fully integrated into the fabric of the community. From their perspective, coca is nutritionally dense. Meaning, its applications are broad. The range of its medicinal properties spans from helping enhance physical performance, to strengthening community bonds, to dental care.
In the evolution of its history, the coca plant became world-renown through two billion dollar industries – Coca Cola and Cocaine. The impact of the latter impressed a negative label on cocaine, and in proxy the coca plant. This stigma has quelled scientific research into its medicinal value. Somewhere along the way, it appears that our Western culture developed an extreme relationship with substances and even more bizarre stories about drugs.
For example, the traditional way of consuming coca leaves is through the act of chewing. This results in a slow-time release of the stimulant throughout the day. That is a very different method of consuming than cocaine –a product of coca–is typically used.
The study, published last week, not only produces substantial evidence of coca’s health benefits but flips the negative narrative about this substance right on its head.
A large part of the world perceives cocaine as one of the most dangerous substances that exists. This study, in contrast, potentiates coca’s ability to make a superstar comeback as a positive tool in our day-to-day lives. Envisioning a way to work legally with this substance could benefit not only the health of a particular individual, but help dismantle the system of the illicit drug trade. This would create a significant economic and social impact on the South American countries that cultivate coca leaves.
Right now, most of the coca production goes straight into the black market. Once it ships around the world, it appreciates a value of 94-143 billion dollars. That’s a significant amount of money that could be reallocated to help foster economic ties between modern medicine and the source.
Introduction to the West
Cocaine became a sensation upon its discovery in the 19th century. Initially, coca had a bright and promising future in the New World as an ancient medicinal plant.
By 1812, its superstar status had already hit the papers. Gentleman’s Magazine dubbed coca, “the elixir of life.” The editorial boasted that coca was a kind of miracle appetite suppressant, ‘Wouldn’t have to eat for days, for weeks,’ (which doesn’t seem like a realistic portrait). Nevertheless, it held–and still holds–the possibility of helping curb appetite. In other words, coca also facilitates digestion and treatment of related issues. (It is important to remember that not enough data exists to conclude this).
Coca even led to the development of anesthetic-assisted surgery and pharmaceuticals, for example. A fact that got lost in the shadow of its reputation.
Though it took a couple rounds of experiments, chemist Albert Niemann isolated and named cocaine in 1859. Upon its discovery to the early 1900s, cocaine entered into our world in a golden age. At the time, all social classes were consuming opium and cocaine-based elixirs. Fans throughout the silent film industry helped to sensationalize cocaine. In other words, cocaine was cool.
Angelo Mariana, a Corsican, was the 1st cocaine millionaire.
After attending a debate on the benefits of coca and cocaine, it inspired Mariana to further investigate the substance, reading emerging literature and traveler’s accounts.
Mariana found that the leaves were the most potent, but bitter-tasting. He began soaking coca leaves in Bordeaux wine to make a “tonic,” Vin Mariani. It became an enormous success with a star-studded list of fans that included everyone from–allegedly of course–Queen Victoria, Ibsen, Sarah Bernhardt, Thomas Edison to the Pope – even Freud.
Freud’s Love of Cocaine is legendary
Dominic Streatfield, author of Cocaine: An Unauthorized Biography went so far as to attribute Freud as the person “…responsible for the emergence of cocaine as a recreational pharmaceutical.” As a treatment for depression and indigestion, Freud boasted of its success in papers, one of which he published is called, “Uber Coca.”
Furthermore, he claimed that cocaine cured morphine addiction, another claim that might, as this recent study shows, hold some merit. But Freud, along with the rest of the world, also caught onto the addictive properties of coca.
At the end of the 19th century, the public’s favor waned, as addiction rate and toxicity levels began to rise.
In 1912, the United States government reported 5,000 cocaine-related deaths in one year, which led to the drug’s official prohibition in 1922. As an illicit, stigmatized drug, this prevented scientists from researching– in more depth–the actual medicinal potential of coca – until now.
The hype took off faster than science could keep up. This is an important lesson from history to remember as psychedelics are entering a Renaissance period.
According to this evocative study, the coca plant is brimming with untapped nutritional, medical, and pharmacological potential. In fact, the study even pointed to its possible effectiveness in treating addiction to stimulants! But the benefits of opening new pathways for coca to reach mainstream medicine extend far beyond one’s individual health.
Agriculturally, most of the coca plants are processed into cocaine for the illicit drug market. Once the cocaine ships around the world, its value estimates around 94-143 billion dollars in black market value. By bringing coca production above ground, the plant could potentiate a host of drugs and treatments that offer safer alternatives to cocaine, and dismantling illicit drug trade. It could bring significant economic and environmental impact on these regions by opening up a global market that could redirect the money to coca farmers.
At the beginning of the 20th century, cocaine was–and still is–considered one of the most dangerous and addictive drugs, which brought about its ban in 1922. Its prohibition spawned one of the biggest, most infamous industries on the black market, but all of the negativity and legal restrictions prevented further scientific research into the plant’s medicinal value. This recent study found that underneath all these stories, coca might end up being a superstar healer–a cosmic joke.