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Yasmin Tayag

Why Is Coca Leaf Left Out of the Drug Research Renaissance?


The coca leaf has a stigma. As the basic compound from which cocaine is derived, it often get demonized for the thousands of deaths caused due to crime and health complications. But has it been studied fairly? Are there medical benefits to the plant that are not being utilized?

Read below to form your own opinion!

This article originally appeared on Inverse

While marijuana, magic mushrooms, and ayahuasca have all found their way into research labs, coca leaf, the mother of cocaine, seems to be off-limits, despite evidence that the plant is a nutritional powerhouse and potential wellspring of medical cures.

This should come as a surprise to no one, says Pien Metaal, a researcher at the Transnational Institute, an Amsterdam-based think tank that advocates for drug policy reform. Policymakers purging the world of its vices, after all, have always been exceptionally thorough — often unnecessarily so.

“In theory, coca would be eligible for medical uses,” Metaal tells Inverse. “But it has never been seriously recognized because of the stigma it has, caused by its content of the alkaloid cocaine.” Obviously, cocaine the drug is a very legitimate public ill, causing some 5,500 deaths in the U.S. each year and thousands more wherever it’s trafficked and produced. But there are no such statistics to justify the demonization of coca leaf, Metaal points out. In fact, there never were.

What we do know is that coca leaf shows promise: The innocuous-looking bush used to grow wild in the Andean region of South America, where indigenous populations chewed the leaves or steeped them in tea to reap their myriad benefits: mild stimulation, relief from pain, hunger, and thirst, and respite from mountain-induced altitude sickness. These days, it’s widely cultivated, and yes, many of the crops are boiled down to make illegal cocaine.

But the rest of it is used in the same way it’s always been used: As a social lubricant, sacred substance, and, notably, as food. In 1975, a team of intrepid Harvard researchers published a study showing that coca leaf was also a rich source of mineral nutrients and essential oils. But that was the last time the science community dared touch the coca leaf.


Read the full story by Yasmin Tayag at Inverse

Tags : Cocaine Inverse