Substances & Homeopatic Remedies

Erythroxylum coca

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History and Uses

Plowman (1983) stated that coca maybe one of the oldest domesticated plants dating back 2000-3000 years, and that the four current varieties were domesticated in pre- Columbian times. Evidence of its early domestication was found an the Santa Elena peninsula in south west Ecuador. Ceramic lime containers were found in this area dating back to the Valdivia Culture. These artifacts along with samples of coca leaves found in burial sites in Peru support the early existence of cultivated coca. Not only was coca grown in prehistory, but evidence indicates coca was distributed to areas where it was not grown during this period. Hastorf (1987) suggests that the Wanka populations had access to coca. The closest coca producing area was 50 km away from Wanka populations, and was situated on the eastern slope of the Andes. This suggests that coca was not only important for local populations, but may have become economically important during prehistoric times.

Coca leaves have been used for centuries as a stimulant. Pre-Incan Indians used the leaves to relieve altitude sickness (hypoxia), hunger and fatigue. When the Spanish invaded South America they initially outlawed coca leaves, but later provided coca leaves to their slaves who worked the precious metal mines in the mountains because they realized this increased productivity (Gottlieb, 1976).

In 1859 Albert Niemann isolated the alkaloid cocaine and in 1860 Angelo Mariani introduced "Vin Mariani" a wine, coca drink. Mariani amassed a fortune from this drink with the help of notable persons such as Sarah Bernhardt, Queen Victoria of England, Thomas Edison and Pope Leo the XIII.

By 1868 cocaine had been recognized as a local anesthetic. And in 1984 Freud wrote about his experience with cocaine in Uber Coca.

Sigmund Freud used cocaine on his patients and became addicted through self-experimentation. In the 1880s, Koller introduced cocaine into the practice of ophthalmology and Hall introduced it to dentistry. Cocaine was widely available at the outset of the 20th century, and Coca-Cola contained approximately 4.5 mg/180 mL until 1904. Coca-cola is still made from coca leaves, but the cocaine has been removed (Gottlieb, 1976).

With widespread use, the problems of abuse and addiction became apparent, and the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 essentially banned distribution of cocaine in the United States, except by prescription.

Modern medicine has used cocaine to treat eczema, shingles (herpes zoster) and has been found to be an effective bactericide against Gram-negative bacteria and coccus bacteria (Bastien, 1987). It was used as a topical anesthetic and a spinal anesthetic, but has been replaced by synthetic forms such as procaine (Gottlieb, 1976).

The most common ancient and modern native use of coca is chewing the leaves. The leaves are placed in the cheek. The Andeans then adds to the leaves alkaline from an ash ball or 11ipta. This ball is sometimes placed in a gourd or poporo and a stick is used to withdraw the ash and place it in the wad of leaves. The alkaline releases the cocaine contained in the leaves. The amount of cocaine found in the two ounces of dried leaves that an Indian consumes in a day is very small about 0.7 grains (Emboden, 1972).

Coca leaves are used today as they were centuries ago in divination. The leaves are read much like tea leaves might be read to see the future. This method is also employed to find lost objects or to find a thief (Bastien, 1987).

Modern herbalists have many uses for coca leaves. Some of the uses include: relieving altitude illness (hypoxia), treating gastrointestinal disorders, relieving the discomfort of colds, bruises, sore joint and muscles, swollen and sore feet and headaches (Bastein, 1987).


The leaves of the coca plant are used by Andean Indians to relieve fatigue and pangs of hunger, but also provide some nutritive value. Duke, Aulik & Plowman (1975) found that 100 gm of Bolivian coca leaves satisfied the dietary allowance for calcium, iron, phosphorous, vitamin A, vitamin B and vitamin E.

The Andean culture and the coca plant have thrived for centuries. It is ironic that this same plant that is used as a cure in its homeland is the source for so much abuse and misunderstanding in other parts of the world.


The leaves of the coca plant are chewed socially throughout the South American andes as a stimulant and to protect against the effects of high elevation.


According to archaic indigenous beliefs, coca 'chewing' is essentially harmless. This was given a modern scientific vindication by the Peruvian pharmacologist, Fernando Cabieses Molina, who wote just after the end of the Second World War that traditional coca consumption has certain features that distinguish it markedly from cocaine abuse. The amount of the cocaine alkaloid is, of course, far lower than in chemically pure extracts from the plant. By introducing the coca leaf orally its psychoactive properties are absorbed slowly and without ill effects by the digestive system. It is a stimulant and used to suppress hunger, to increase physical endurance and, in the Andes, to help cope with high altitudes. Distinguished visitors to Bolivia, including Pope John Paul II and Princess Anne have drunk coca tea (mate de coca) as it is the traditional way of avoiding altitude sickness. Impartial and scientific investigations have shown that regular use of coca is not harmful and no major social problems are known to have resulted from its traditional, and milennia-long, use in the Andes. This contradicts the claims of its ill-effects contained in reports by the United Nations and other official bodies, which seem to be based more on prejudice, ethnocentric bias, and the desire to portray the natural source of cocaine as negatively as possible in order to justify plans for eradicating coca in its homeland.


Coca is a remedy for defective innervation, as evidenced by imperfect digestion, even though the appetite remains normal, and when the disorder is associated with occipital and post-cervical pain, vertigo and inability to stand for any length of time (Scudder). It increases the flow of gastric juice, improves the tone of the stomach, and relieves gastric pain. In fact, atonic states of the nervous system and the stomach, are the conditions in which it appears to exert the best effects. Hysteria is often cured by it, while, in chorea, it may relieve by toning the muscles and increasing nerve power, in this manner giving the patient better control over the muscular movements. From 10 to 15 drops of specific erythroxylon will overcome insomnia, caused by a gloomy state of the mind, and sometimes asthma is slowly, but permanently, cured by the drug (Locke). In the treatment of the opium habit it generally fails.


Coca has been successfully used in irritative or atonic dyspepsia, flatulency, colic, gastralgia, enteralgia, hypochondria, spinal irritation, idiopathic convulsions, nervous erethism, and in the debility following severe acute affections, anemia, scurvy, etc. In large doses it has been proposed in tetanus and hydrophobia, though no trustworthy reports of its efficacy are as yet forthcoming. Prof. Scudder (Spec. Med.) suggests that it may be useful in "the early stages of tuberculosis, by enabling the person to take the exercise so much needed to burn the imperfect materials in the blood." There is no doubt but that it exerts some control in wasting diseases in general. It is reputed useful in relaxed states of the vocal chords, and in the granular form of pharyngitis; and to allay the thirst accompanying diabetes, and the inordinate hunger of the insane and epileptics. Like tea, coffee, guarana, etc., it is an effectual remedy in migraine, or nervous headache, and is not without utility in functional impotence an spermatorrhoea, when due merely to a condition of general debility. Coca has been suggested as an agent to control hunger, thirst, and fatigue for armies during long and forced marches, but, owing to its scarcity, it will probably never be used for this purpose.


Three or 4 drachms of the leaves is a medium dose, whether chewed or used in infusion; of the hydro-alcoholic extract, 10 to 15 grains, in pill form; the dose of specific erythroxylon is from 5 to 30 drops.


Specific Indications and Uses.-Defective innervation with dizziness, impaired digestion, occipital and post-cervical pain, and inability to stand for a length of time; migraine; fatigue; weariness and mental and physical exhaustion; labored and difficult breathing, with normal temperature; inordinate hunger and thirst.