Is Cocaine A Plant?

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Cocaine is an addictive stimulant drug often used for illicit purposes. Cocaine is a highly used substance with approximately 5 million individuals engaging in it throughout a 12 month period. (1) Approximately 1.3 million individuals were diagnosed with cocaine use disorder due to excessive and uncontrollable use. (2) Cocaine can be inhaled through the nose, smoked, and injected through the veins. Though a high amount of individuals engage in cocaine use, many are unaware of its origin. Those who engage in the substance may have asked themselves, is cocaine a plant? Though the substance cocaine is not itself a plant, it does originate from one. This article explores how cocaine is transformed from plant to addictive, powdery substance.

Though cocaine is derived from nature, it is a powerful drug that accounts for approximately 19, 447 deaths a year. (3) Aside from causing thousands of fatalities, cocaine use can interfere with social, occupational, and other important areas of daily functioning. If you or someone you know is engaging in cocaine use, despite experiencing negative consequences, treatment may be helpful. Guardian Recovery specializes in comprehensive treatment options for those experiencing cocaine use disorder. With cocaine specific detoxification services, Guardian Recovery can help in combating substance use. Contact us today to learn more about the treatment services that we offer.

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Cocaine Comes From the Coca Plant (Erythroxylon Coca)

For many millennia, individuals living in South American countries ingested and consumed the leaves of a plant known as the coca plant. (4) The coca plant provided stimulant effects, and became the source of cocaine. The leaves from the coca plant can be extracted and processed to produce cocaine hydrochloride, the purified chemical form of cocaine. (5) During the late 1800s and beginning of the 1900s, cocaine hydrochloride was used to help treat various illnesses and sickness. (6) By the year 1905, approximately 200,000 individuals were reportedly addicted to cocaine. (7)

Species of Coca Plants

There is not just one kind of coca plant. There are approximately 260 plants in the coca plant family. (8) However, only 4 species are used for the production of cocaine. These 4 species are grown in different areas throughout South America. Each one is identified by their different leaves. Different strains of coca leaves all contain different levels of chemicals in them. The 4 different species of coca plants include: (9)

  • Bolivian coca (Erythroxylum coca Lam): Grown in moist environments in Peru and Bolivia. This species is the most popular in terms of traditional uses, and is the main source of cocaine hydrochloride.
  • Amazonia coca (E. coca var. ipadu Plowman): Grown throughout the Amazon basin, its leaves are often consumed as a powder.
  • Colombian coca (Erythroxylum novogranatense): Grown throughout the dry valleys in Colombia.
  • Trujillo coca (E. novogranatense var. truxillense): Grown in arid valleys in Peru, this species of cocaine was used for flavoring in Coca-Cola products.

Cultivation

The coca plant is often planted throughout steep slopes. The coca plant is cultivated between approximately 600 and 1650 feet above sea level. (10) Seeds are usually planted from the months of December to January. Non direct sunlight is ideal for the plant to thrive. The plant grows up to 10 feet high. (11) It takes several years before a significant amount of leaves are grown on each plant.

Where Does the Coca Plant Grow?

The coca plant can be found in northern and western South American. Countries where the coca plant can be found include Bolivia, Peru, and Columbia. (12) Approximately 90 percent of cocaine that is smuggled into the United States is produced in Colombia. (13) The best place for the coca plant to grow is in hot and humid climates.

How Many Plants Does It Take To Make Cocaine?

People are often surprised when they learn just how many coca leaves are needed in order to produce cocaine. Approximately 1000 coca leaves are used in order to make only 2.2 pounds of cocaine. (14) Leaves can be removed for processing up to 8 times a year. (15)

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How Are Coca Leaves Processed to Make Illegal Cocaine

Coca leaves are processed in labs in jungles throughout South America. Several chemical reactions take place in order to produce the illegal substance of cocaine. Once coca leaves are gathered, they are soaked in gasoline and then dried. Once dried, the leaves are soaked in a substance that includes limes. Chemicals such as potassium and acid are added to the mixture before it is dissolved in acetone. The next step includes another soaking of acid. Lastly, everything is strained and the remaining substance is dried. Once dried, the illegal substance of cocaine is formed.

Are Coca Leaves Illegal?

Coca leaves are not allowed into the United States, regardless of their purpose of use. Cocaine is a Schedule II drug according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. (16) The possession of coca leaves became illegal in 1961 after being classified as a Schedule I substance by the United Nations Convention on Narcotic Drugs. (17) Coca leaves are legal in other parts of the world for chewing and the production of teas.

Does Consuming Coca Plant Leaves Cause Side Effects?

Knowing that cocaine originates from the coca plant, one might wonder what happens if you eat the plant’s leaves? Though there is an effect, eating coca leaves does not cause any dependence. This is because only a small amount of cocaine is absorbed through leaf consumption, making it unlikely to cause a psychological effect. When chewed, the plant is a mild stimulant. Side effects of chewing coca plant include the reduction of hunger, thirst, tiredness and pain. (18) Some individuals consume coca plant leaves in order to improve their physical performance, though it has only been found to increase heart rate. (19)

Education on cocaine and its origins can help bring awareness to addiction. Though cocaine is derived from a plant, it is still a dangerous substance. Cocaine use can elicit adverse side effects. Chronic or daily cocaine use can increase one’s chances of developing cocaine use disorder.

Side effects of consuming cocaine include:

  • Constricted blood vessels
  • Dilated pupils
  • Increased body temperature
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability and agitation

Consuming multiple doses, or cocaine in excess, can lead to cocaine toxicity or overdose. (20) Symptoms of cocaine toxicity include:

  • Headache
  • Paranoia
  • Hypertension
  • Hyperthermia
  • Mood swings
  • Severe confusion
  • Blurry vision
  • Vision loss
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Delirium
  • Seizure
  • Death

Cocaine toxicity is a serious condition and could be fatal. Seek medical attention if you suspect that you or someone you love is experiencing cocaine toxicity.

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Guardian Recovery offers evidence-based treatment for individuals experiencing cocaine use disorder or addiction to other substances. With different levels of care including residential, partial hospitalizationintensive outpatient, and standard outpatient programs, sobriety is achievable when receiving care at one of our treatment facilities. If interested, you can receive a free, no obligation insurance benefit check upon your request. Contact us today to speak with one of our Treatment Advisor who will help you begin your recovery journey.

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  1. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states
  2. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states
  3. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-scope-cocaine-use-in-united-states
  4. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-cocaine
  5. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-cocaine
  6. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/cocaine/what-cocaine
  7. https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/drugs/buyers/socialhistory.html#fnB9
  8. https://factsanddetails.com/world/cat54/sub348/item1214.html
  9. https://academic.oup.com/sysbio/article/70/1/1/5912027
  10. https://www.ojp.gov/pdffiles1/Digitization/132907NCJRS.pdf
  11. https://factsanddetails.com/world/cat54/sub348/item1214.html
  12. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Cocaine-2020_1.pdf
  13. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Cocaine-2020_1.pdf
  14. https://www.businessinsider.com/how-cocaine-is-made-2017-10#gonzalo-places-mulched-coca-leafs-sprinkled-with-cement-and-soaked-in-gasoline-into-a-press-as-he-makes-coca-paste-the-mixture-is-put-into-a-press-so-the-basic-liquid-extract-of-coca-paste-can-be-squeezed-out-8
  15. https://factsanddetails.com/world/cat54/sub348/item1214.html
  16. https://www.dea.gov/sites/default/files/2020-06/Cocaine-2020_1.pdf
  17. https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/opinion/the-controversial-coca-leaf
  18. https://www.tni.org/en/publication/coca-leaf-myths-and-reality
  19. https://www.rxlist.com/coca/supplements.htm
  20. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430976/

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave

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Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

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Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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