When I first went to Cusco, Peru, I was surprised to see people take heavy quantities of coca tea and stuffing their mouths with coca leaves. But it took me little time to understand that this plant is far from what is in the West perceived to be a dangerous and addicting drug, that of cocaine.
The coca leaf is a powerful and essential component in the difficult life in the Andes, and without it life would be inconceivable and insurmountable at the height of 3,000m. On the other hand, the drug, cocaine, is the abuse of of the coca plant, it is the abomination of the plant itself. But because you need the plant to make the drug, there has been a widespread political policy aimed at making the coca plant illegal to plant. I here explore the fatal ‘PR issue’ that Andean countries face with the coca plant, and discuss the plant from the perspectives of the locals – those who see it for what it really is and not for its abominating mutant form.
The Sacred Plant. I believe that to know about the plant, its connection with local traditions and the diverse cultural and religious uses is an essential part of the fight against the drug. One cannot even begin framing policies against cocaine until the Coca plant is de-villainized and seen for what it really is. With renewed knowledge of the beauty and sanctity of this plant we can begin to appreciate it and perhaps even transform its ‘abuses’ into ‘uses’.
It is important to say, first of all, that the Coca Leaf is not addictive. It may be strange to hear this since the alkaloid of cocaine is addictive, but there is so little cocaine in the leaf that there is no chemical, physiological or any other kind of addiction associated to munching the leaf. The Coca Plant is an immense resource of nutrients, vitamins, and alkaloids… This is how the good old Inkas used to travel for days from mountain to mountain without barely any food but sacks of coca to supplement their diets. Per gram it has higher amounts of proteins than Quinoa, spinach; it is higher in iron than wheat, spinach and Cabbage; And the doses of Calcium are ten times that in spinach. The table below illustrates the nutritious values of the super-food of coca.
The alkaloids of the plant have amazing properties. From having antidepressive properties, to controlling high levels of colesterol, to combatting artritis, treating diabetes, stimulating intellectual and physical work, one of the most sought after properties is that of anesthetic and decreasing the level of fatigue that is so common in the high altitudes of the Andes. In fact, when you first arrive in Cusco, which is at 3,400 meters of altitude it is strongly advised to have coca tea to help alleviate the headache and respiratory difficulties.
Life without this plant simply would not be possible. This is why Quechua people see – and have seen for centuries – the plant as a ‘Sacred Being‘ for which one must thank Mother Earth, The Pachamama. Recent evidence, shows that the coca plant was being used ceremonially even 8,000 years ago. It is thanks to ‘her’ that peasants are able to go work the steep terrace fields, and retain endurance though the fierce climate; it is the leaf of the Quechua people.
The Abuse of the Coca Plant. From the Sacred Leaf, we got to the Abusive Alkaloid. The leaf was first transformed into a drug and distilled in the pure form of cocaine by European Scientists, more specifically by Richard Willstätter in 1898, and has historically consumed in Europe and North America until today.
An Illegal Plant? The consumption of the drug has been increasing sporadically in the past years, and the American ‘war on drugs’ has made the West attack fiercely the producers of coca leafs in order to combat the production of the drug. As a result, since the ’60s the UN and its’ Convention on Narcotics has been a battling ground between countries combatting the import of cocaine and the Andean Countries (Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia) that have high production of coca plants. But the production of coca plants does not automatically translate into the production of cocaine. And although there has been a more recent ‘understanding’ of the international organization on the local cultural usages of the plant, ‘war’ on the Coca Plant is still underway.
Bolivia has been a particular scenario, because most of its population is indigenous Aymara and mestizo. President Evo Morales has been a strong advocator for the Coca Plant, and its importance for Bolivian Indigenous Identity. He is often assailed by the Western media, take a look at BBC, for his socialist policies that protect indigenous rights and customs, policies that are today at the forefront of alternative approaches to development that are sustainable and culturally virtuous. Recently, Diego Morales charged back on the United States for pursing their geo-political agenda only and for backing Drug Trafficking, of which the United States is one of the greatest cocaine consumers and profiters.
Solutions? Morales is doing this very well, and pushing on the legalization of the plant at the international level. He is well aware of the ignorance surrounding this topic and has set on himself, since 2006, the marketization of the Coca leaf as the Ancient Sacred plant. His efforts are inspiring: recently he distributed Coca leaves to spectators of the Dakar racing, and has welcomed and celebrated Ban Ki-moon’s birthday with a Bolivian-made cake made of Coca Leaf.
We hope that these examples tell the more complete story of the Coca Leaf, a Sacred Being indeed.
The Coca Leaf Is Not a Drug – Natural News.