Cocaine, has gone from wonder drug, to demonized villain. This is just a short history of this journey.
Cocaine is derived from the leaf of the Coca plant (Erythroxylon coca). The leaf is chewed together with lime to release the active ingredient(1). The plant family of the Coca plant( Erythroxylaceae) is found in abundance on mountain slopes of South America, as well as in Australia, India, and Africa(2).
There are more than 250 varieties of the coca plant, but only Huanuco coca, that is grown in the Amazon River basin, and coca, grown in Colombia, are use to make cocaine (3 ).
The plant according to legend originates from a woman (Mama Coca) who was killed for her sexual excesses. The location where she was killed and cut up in bits, is where the first Coca plant sprang up (4 ).
Some monuments near graves in Peru and Ecuador dating back as far as 300 BC have puffed-out cheeks that indicating a wad of coca in the mouth. Coca was sacred to the Inca's it was used for divination and scattered by priest religious rites. The mouths of the dead might be filled with Coca and bags of leaves left in the tomb to ease the Journey to the next world (5 ).
The Inca's laid out their first Coca plantations in the ancient Inca cities of Hauisca and Tunu that are located in Peru(6 ). In Inca culture only the aristocracy were allow to chew the leaves of the Coca plant. After the Spanish conquest and the enslavement of the people, the Spaniards encourage all to chew coca leafs to deal with heavy labor and physical hardships (7 ).
The first writing about Coca, seemed to have written from a point of view of European Superiority. A soldier and traveler (from 1532 to 1550) in South America, Pedro Cieza de Leon wrote "When I asked some of these Indians why they carried these leaves in their mouths ... they replied that it prevents them from feeling hungry, and gives them great vigor and strength. I believe that it has some such effect, although perhaps it is a custom only suitable for people like these Indians."(8 ).