Chewing coca leaves Coca was and continues to be chewed by the Aymaras and Quechuas of Bolivia, Peru and other Andean countries.
The leaves are not chewed but sucked. The term chewing is not an appropriated one, but as its commonly used, we will use this term throughout this article.
This is a technique developed over centuries. It consists in taking a mouthful of coca leaves without swallowing them. These are previously stripped of the veins to avoid traumatic action by these hard parts of the leaf on the mouth lining:
Chewing is done softly, trying not to crush them totally, only enough to break the cell membranes and then let them dissolve slowly in the saliva.
The bolus thus formed (about 8-10 grams), is left to repose in the gums and the mouth lining, just below the outlet of the excreting duct of the parotid salivary gland.
When the half crushed leaves are sufficiently dampened (10-15 minutes), the chewer adds the llijta or any other alkaline agent (such as sodium bicarbonate). The llijta is a preparation made of several types of vegetal ashes, such as quinoa and plantain. Its purpose is to provide an alkaline medium to maximize the action of the alkaloids of the leaf.
A few minutes later, there is an intense anesthetic effect on the mucosa next to the bolus and also in the cheeks, throat and tongue. It is certain that the ingestion of the juice exerts an anesthetic effect on the lower intestinal tract and at the systemic level. This would explain the custom in Andean countries to chew coca leaves or take coca infusion to alleviate pain over a wide range: headaches, toothaches, intestinal cramps, etc. Its use is frequent as a dressing topically applied on the painful areas, for instance in the area of a broken bone or arthritis. adds the llijta or any other alkaline agent (such as sodium bicarbonate). The llijta is a preparation made of several types of vegetal ashes, such as quinoa and plantain. Its purpose is to provide an alkaline medium to maximize the action of the alkaloids of the leaf.
The absorption of alkaloids is rapid and the elimination of fatigue, a feeling of euphoria or antidepressant action is felt within 15 to 20 minutes, with the appearance of an increase of psychomotor action, a state of tension typical of alertness, there is an increase in activity or the desire to do something. Sensorial functions become more intense. The higher intellectual activities are faster, there is a slight feeling of consciousness expansion (which could explain its use during religious rituals). In the emotional area, the effect is stimulating, the individual feels euphoric, happy, optimistic, and willing to undertake action. Corporal needs, such as hunger, sleepiness, and restful are postponed by the energetic impulse of the time. The capacity and yield during work improve noticeably , although the study conducted by IBBA only reports that it increases work endurance.
The effect of chewing is strong at the start but it disappears progressively and it is necessary to increase the intake slowly to maintain the effect. According to Carter and Mamani, intensive users of coca, such as miners and farmers, chew the leaf two or three times a day, sometimes even four, when work is hard. It amounts to thirteen ounces a week (390 grams).
When the habitual chewer does not undertake any activity, generally he/she does not consume coca or very little of it. Consumption can be easily abandoned indefinitely without any undesirable effects. Even, when the user is chewing coca and is offered a nutritious and appetizing meal, he will stop chewing to eat. In general, the desire to chew coca can be abandoned indefinitely, without suffering physical or psychological effects, or the appearance of compulsive behavior to alleviate the desire.
” I have seen many habitual coca consumers, who for reason beyond their control, such as an incapacitating accident, have been forced to remain several months in a hospital without possibilities to continue their habit, which had to be interrupted suddenly, show no signs of withdrawal symptoms. ” (J.Hurtado)
“…until now, we have not been able to detect withdrawal symptoms when the dispensation of cocaine has been interrupted. Animals feel pleasure when injected with cocaine and show appetite for the drug in every possible form, but if the substance is suspended no ill effects are observed in animal physiology. Therefore, cocaine depends on other substances to produce the so called habit.
In animals, these are evident only when injected parentally. It is then the pharmacology of cocaine that has caused and continues to cause the adverse reaction against coca leaves. This is a risky and, to a large extent, artificial association between the chemically pure alkaloid, and injected directly in the veins at large doses, and the coca leaves, whose effects may be the same but of different intensity and undoubtedly at a much smaller risk than some would like to attribute to coca.” (Fernando Cabiesis)