Coca leaves: Fisiology
The IBBA, an agency of the Universidad Mayor de San Andres, (the main Bolivian university) in cooperation with the Center for Botanical and Ecological Research of the Universidad Mayor de San Simon in Cochabamba, and the French Institute of Scientific Research for Development in Cooperation, have developed a joint project on several scientific topics, in which they state:
“In the field of physiology, with respect to muscular exercise, we have noted that the capacity to do more work does not increase with coca chewing, but it does increase work tolerance. In relation to respiratory sensitivity, we could observe that chewing does have a stimulating effect on respiratory centers.”
Both findings could be related to the increase of catecholamine, found after chewing. On the other hand, the results achieved show that the chewing of coca leaves acts on hemoglobin and inhibits platelet aggregation.
The results obtained indicate that:
- coca exerts a moderating effect on general consumption of glucose.
-coca chewing does not influence the daily nutrient intake.
- show a positive effect of coca use on the adaptation processes to life at high altitudes.
“Most importantly, may be the increase of respiratory frequency with the resulting increase in blood oxygenation.
(We should not forget that the highest incidence of chewers takes place at high altitudes, where about 75% of the population chew coca, while at 2,000 meters above sea level only 20% are habitual chewers and only 3% at sea level.)
The Andean inhabitants must endure altitudes of 4,000 meters above sea level, where oxygen concentrations are very poor. The analeptic or stimulating effect on respiration is the perfect complement to offset this chronic lack of oxygen.
This is why the altitude sickness (sorojche) is traditionally cured through with the classic coca infusion, very well known by the high altitude travelers. The chronic lack of oxygen is considered the major cause of erythrocytosis, a widely known blood disease in whichthe organism, in an attempt to overcome the lack of oxygen, produces ever increasing amounts of red cells, thereby increasing blood viscosity, circulatory difficulties and the associated thrombosis risks.
The decrease of platelet aggregation found by the investigators of the IBBA, would explain this other interesting complement which allows life at 4,000 meters a.s.l. The decrease of hematocrites or red cell concentrations inchronic coca consumers was already demonstrated by Buck, Sasaki, Hewitt and Macrae in their article “Coca Chewing and Health.
It appears to me that the decrease in cholesterol levels in the blood of chronic chewers, another valuable effect of coca which was found by the same investigators, should be studied in more detail because the mentioned article apparently does not take into account other factors which could explain this effect. From this perspective, coca would play an indispensable role in adaptation to high altitude.
This would explain why coca became an instrument for survival when the Spaniards imposed slavery. Or when the Industrial Era demanded from the Bolivian tin miners a second period of slavery spent below ground. This would also explain how Potosi, and the boom of the European Crowns was made possible. And now the growing consumption (and abuse) of its concentrated chemical, cocaine, inthe modern Western World.
The above, however, does not help us to understand the damaging effects manifested by the abuse of cocaine base orpasta as we shall see when looking into the problems of drug dependence.
Why the radical difference with the consumption of coca leaves?
Why this contradictory benevolence as compared against the abuse of its chemical derivatives?
are there compensating elements in coca leaves?
As the famous botanist Paracelsus said: “Every element in nature has its own poison and its antidote as well. ”
Therefore, the need and the new trend to revert to the natural and more complete remedies. The case of coca is more specific. It is an important source of vitamins and minerals, particularly phosphor and vitamin B complex, quite beneficial for the brain.
If we compare the contents of coca leaves with the composition of known geriatric compounds, such as Zellaforte as an example, we notice a similarity with coca leaves, because in addition to containing the same vitamins and minerals of this geriatrictonic, Zellaforte contains the so called potion of youth or procaine (KH3). That is a synthetic derivative from cocaine. The coca leaf in this case, would contain the “original” substance, or natural cocaine.
It has been argued that the coca chewer only absorbs the alkaloid, and not the natural nutrients. I havepersonally looked into this matter, analyzing under the microscope the residues of chewing, which are usually discarded or eliminated, finding only whitish fibrous residues.
Due to the technique used, it is impossible to absorb only one chemicaldissolved in the juices resulting from the rupture of vegetalcells, which is also ingested in full.
Cuiffardi, another researcher of the leaf, found that 80% of the leaf contents had been extracted. As for the capacity of human digestive tract to absorb the proteins contained in the leaf, I have no evidence to evaluate its role in the feeding habits of the Andean inhabitant.
As opposed to the now popular chemical extract, extraction by mouth allows for the assimilation of all of the elements contained in the leaf; it is possible that thecombination of all, in addition to other factors which we will see below, counteract the toxicity attributed to cocaine abuse.
Chemical processing destroys 98% of the leaf’s contents and obtains a single alkaloid, cocaine. Because of this point ofview, I am in agreement with the statement that coca is not cocaine, because the true value of this plant resides precisely in cocaine and its medicinal value which we will analyze further ahead.
The actual effects of coca leaves can only be deduced from the examination of chronic chewers. Currently, all scientific investigations on the abuse of stimulants derived from coca were made starting with cocaine, which does not give license by any means, to generalize these results and attribute them to the leaf itself. These facts would suffice to explain the basis for the benevolence of the leaf and its chewing on the human body.