The coca plant (Erythroxylum coca), or "coca," is native to the Andean region in western South America. Coca leaves have been used widely by native South American tribes for thousands of years. It has been suggested that the use of the coca plant was originally reserved for priests and royalty in ancient South America and was used for religious purposes.
Traditionally, coca plant products have been used for reducing pain, decreasing hunger, and for their stimulating effects. Cocaine, a compound taken from the coca plant, is a highly addictive stimulant.
In the late 19th century, the use of cocaine for local anesthesia was popularized. Cocaine found its way into many different products including prescription drugs, medicine, and popular soda drinks (including the original Coca-Cola®). In modern times, cocaine's use in anesthesia is limited, due to the negative effects of cocaine and risk for addiction and death.
Coca leaves have been used for treating cocaine dependence. Coca leaves have also been used for exercise tolerance and hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). Illegal use of cocaine has had negative effects on antisocial behavior and general health. Further study is needed.

Related Terms

Bazuco (Spanish), Bolivian coca, Bolivianischer Kokastrauch (German), coca (English, French, Portuguese, Spanish), coca leaves, coca paste, cocaine, cocaine hydrochloride, cocaine plant, cocaine salt, Erythroxylaceae (Family), Erythroxylon (former Genus), Erythroxylum (Genus), Erythroxylum coca, Erythroxylum coca var. coca, Erythroxylum coca var. ipadu, Erythroxylum novogranatense var. novogranatense, Erythroxylum novogranatense var. truxillense, espadu (Portuguese), honger-en-dorstboom (Dutch), Huanuco coca, koka (Polish, Slovakian), koka pravá (Czechoslovakian), koka sort (Dutch), kokacserje (Hungarian), kokainovník pravý (Czechoslovakian), kokaplante (Danish), Kokastrauch (German), mamas coca (Quechua), mumus (Quechua), pitillo (Spanish).
Note: There are four types of plants from the coca plant family that are typically grown in South America, including E. coca var. coca, E. novogranatense var. novogranatense, E. coca var. ipadu, and E. novogranatense var. truxillense.
This monograph includes information on the coca plant and coca plant products, such as coca leaves, coca leaf tea, as well as cocaine. Coca leaves and cocaine are two different products. Cocaine is a compound present in the leaves of the coca plant and is an addictive stimulant that is potentially toxic, particularly in large quantities or with long-term use. Cocaine abuse has resulted in increased illness and death.
The growth, sale, and possession of cocaine are illegal in most countries. Unprocessed coca leaf, however, may be legal in some South American countries because the use of coca leaves has traditionally been considered to be a part of the culture. To prevent cocaine production, coca plant farming is often limited in these countries.
This monograph does not include information on prescription cocaine hydrochloride.

evidence table

These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Altitude sickness (Grade: C)
In athletes training in the Andes, coca infusions have been studied for their use in helping to adapt to high altitudes. Coca leaf tea has displayed promising effects on exercise performance and improving low blood sugar in high-altitude settings. Further study is needed.
Anesthetic (Grade: C)
Coca leaves have been used in mixtures for surgery due to their anesthetic effects. The Inca used maize, datura (of the nightshade family), espingo (a psychotropic fruit), tobacco, San Pedro cactus, and coca to prepare an alcoholic beverage used to induce unconsciousness for surgeries. Further study is needed on the use of the coca plant alone.
Cocaine dependence (Grade: C)
Coca leaves have been suggested as a possible treatment for cocaine and cocaine base abuse. Further study is needed before a conclusion may be drawn.
Exercise performance (Grade: C)
The effects of coca use on responses to exercise have been studied. Preliminary evidence shows that coca use may boost exercise tolerance. Further study is needed before conclusions may be drawn.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) (Grade: C)
Early studies show that chewing coca leaves may improve low blood sugar. Although not well studied in humans, some parts of coca have caused high blood sugar. Further study is needed before a firm conclusion may be drawn.