The coca plant is best known for its alkaloids. The alkaloids include the drug cocaine. When the leaves are chewed, the absorption of the cocaine does not cause the same psychoactive effects that the purified form of the drug does.
Coca gets its medicinal benefits from the leaves. In high doses the drug can cause paralysis of motor neuron fibers. It should not be used during pregnancy or while nursing because the drug can infiltrate into the embryo and milk.
The medicinal parts are the leaves of the coca bush.
Flower and Fruit
The flowers are small and greenish white. They are in axillary clusters. The fruit is a red almost 1 cm long drupe with 1 seed.
Leaves, Stem, and Root
Erythroxylum coca is a small shrublike tree up to 5 m tall. The leaves are brownish-green, oval, thin but tough, up to 5 cm long and 2.5 cm wide with two lines on the surface parallel to the midrib. The margins are entire, the apex rounded. There are 2 faint projecting lines on the upper surface parallel to the midrib, which stiffen the leaf. There are small stipules in the leaf axils, which later become brown and hard.
The plant is indigenous to the Andes region of South America; it is cultivated in Indonesia, India and Sri Lanka.
Coca leaves are the dried leaves of Erythroxylum coca.
Bolivian Coca, Cocaine, Cuca, Peruvian Coca
Actions & Pharmacology
Tropane alkaloids: main alkaloid (-)-cocaine, including, among others, cis-cinnamoyl cocaine, trans-cinnamoyl cocaine, also including alpha-truxillin, beta-truxillin, benzoylecgonin
The leaves act as a local anesthetic and stimulate the central nervous system. In high doses, the drug causes paralysis of motor neuron fibers.
Indications & Usage
The plant is used in the manufacture of the local anesthetic cocaine hydrochloride. It is a model for synthetic local anesthetics. Cocaine is still occasionally used in ophthalmology and for toothache and oral and pharyngeal mucosa irritation (as a gargle).
Precautions & Adverse Reactions
Chewing an excessively large quantity of the leaves can cause psychic disturbances and hallucinations. Chronic use can lead to poor nutritional states and disinterest in work, due to the suppression of feelings of hunger and the resulting reduction in food intake. The enhanced vulnerability to illness and the reduced life expectancy are also conditioned by the immunosuppressive effect of the drug. Beyond that, the drug is probably carcinogenic in effect, embryotoxic and sensitizing. The observed dependence on the drug (cocoaism) is mainly psychically conditioned, although withdrawal symptoms are also known (need for sleep, bulimia, anxiety, irritability, tremor). For the toxicology of cocaine, consult publications (Lewin, Teuscher).
Cocaine passes into the embryo or fetus and is embryotoxic.
Cocaine passes into the mother's milk.
Mode of Administration
Use of Erythroxylum coca is obsolete except for use in 2% eyedrops.