Source: The Independent (UK)
7 October 2013
Coca leaves can treat muscle pain and could provide income for impoverished
farmers, says study
For centuries the coca leaf was a staple of Andean culture, widely prized
for its medicinal qualities – especially in the alleviation of altitude
But the 20th-century drugs epidemic and booming demand for cocaine, for
which the leaf is a central ingredient, saw the plant outlawed by
governments around the world, with devastating effects for farmers who had
grown it for generations.
Now an independent report commissioned by the influential All-Party
Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform has urged that coca’s illegal
status be reviewed and research conducted into the possible legal uses of
the leaf which, it is claimed, could benefit the lives of millions of the
world’s poorest people.
Banned in 1961 amid concern over the impact of the cocaine trade, a 1995
report by the World Health Organisation found there were “no negative
health effects” resulting from coca use in leaf form. The findings were
never published following pressure from the United States, which has
pursued a long-standing policy of destroying crops and criminalising
Evidence from the International Centre for Science in Drug Policy last
week found cocaine was 51 per cent cheaper than in 1990 while its potency
had increased. Group chair Baroness Meacher said that the war on drugs had
“disastrous consequences” in the developing world. “The employment of poor
farmers and their families by the drug barons in Colombia continues to be
irresistible while few, if any, alternatives exist,” she said. “But these
farmers could earn a legitimate income growing a crop to generate products
with positive therapeutic… functions.”
Rather than waging war on producers, governments should consider using aid
budgets to create regulated markets in which the alkaloid that makes
cocaine was safely removed from the leaf and alternative products found,
the report says.
As well as being a rich source of protein and calcium, coca can also be
used to make wine and treat muscular pain. It also offers a potential
treatment for cocaine dependency. The report said companies such as
Coca-Cola already have special permission from the US Drug Enforcement
Administration to import dried coca leaf, while it is also legally
imported into Europe to make energy drinks such as Red Bull.
The United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on the
subject in 2016, but earlier this year the UK was among a number of
governments to back the US in its opposition to Bolivia’s plan to seek an
exemption to the 1961 UN convention on narcotics, claiming that chewing
coca was central to the culture of its indigenous peoples. Danny
Kuschlick, of the Transform Drugs Policy Foundation, said: “It should
never have been made illegal. It is the equivalent of making tea, coffee
beans or chocolate illegal.”
Coca: Wonder drug?
Coca flour: The 19.6 per cent protein content of the leaves could make be
an important addition to geriatric diets, while its extraordinarily high
levels of calcium (higher than milk or eggs) suggest its use in the
treatment of broken bones and conditions such as osteoporosis.
Wine: Coca wine was popular in Europe in the 19th century until it was
outlawed. It is still made in Latin America where it is advertised as an
anti-depressant and a tonic alleviating colds and sore throats.
Oil: Coca leaves contain methyl salicylate, an essential oil used in
mouthwash and in treating aching muscles.
Cocaine addiction: As methadone is used to alleviate the withdrawal
symptoms of heroin, scientists claim chewing coca leaves could similarly
reduce cocaine dependence.