Coca Myths

Anthony Henman Pien Metaal
TNI Drugs & Conflict Debate Paper 17
June 2009

The coca leaf has been used and misused for many ends, each of them suiting different interests and agendas. Even its very name has been appropriated by a soft drinks producer, which still has difficulties in admitting that the plant is used to produce its "black gold". Every day press accounts around the world use the word coca in their headlines, when they refer in fact to cocaine.

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History has been unjust to the coca leaf, denying it distribution on a global scale despite its proven value as an energy enhancer, while limiting its potential for widespread use as a healthy alternative to all sorts of chemical stimulants currently available on the world market.

The inclusion of the coca leaf in the 1961 Single Convention’s lists of drugs liable to abuse, and therefore subject to international control, has not produced the effect originally desired: traditional use - whether by chewing the leaves or drinking them in an infusion - is still widespread, though largely limited to a few countries where such practices have historical antecedents. Potential demand is high, particularly for coca tea. The ban of even this innocuous custom is still one of the demands repeated annually in the statements of the INCB, the interpretive body of the UN control system. This unreasonable posture has recently led to a formal request from one government to abrogate the articles of the 1961 Convention that demand abolishing of coca leaf chewing.

The present issue of Drugs & Conflict intends to debunk and disentangle the most prominent myths surrounding the coca leaf. It aims to clear the air and help steer the debate towards a more evidence-based judgement of the issues. Discussion has been stuck for too long at the point where it is now, and - sometime in the near future - political decisions will need to be made on coca’s fate and legal status.

• Editorial
• Myth One: Coca and Nutrition
Box: Nutritional value of coca leaf - Harvard Study
• Myth Two: Coca and Alkaloids
• Myth Three: Coca and Addiction
• Myth Four: Coca and the Environment
• Myth Five: Coca and Society
• Final Remarks
• Bibliography

See also:

Bibliographic information
Transnational Institute
24 pp.
ISBN ISSN 1871-3408