The Therapeutic Potential of Coca
Despite being one of the world’s most important medicinal plants, of great historical, cultural, and social significance, research on coca is very limited. Indigenous peoples of the Andes and Amazonia attribute many therapeutic properties to coca, but few attempts have been made to document them. In whole-leaf form, coca is a relatively safe stimulant with a low potential for abuse. It is widely used to treat gastro-intestinal ailments, altitude sickness, and metabolic problems, appears to stabilize blood sugar and prevent the expression of type 2 diabetes in genetically susceptible populations. Cocaine is one of a number of chemically similar alkaloids in coca, a complex mixture of agonists and antagonists that help normalize key body functions; the leaf also provides flavor compounds and micronutrients. Whole coca extracts, in the form of lozenges or chewing gums, would deliver these elements in a manner similar to the indigenous method of chewing the leaves. Coca is available for therapeutic use under US and international laws, although there are no legal exports from producing nations. Educating health professionals about potential uses of coca in contemporary medicine and about the great difference between whole coca and isolated cocaine is a priority.