This research paper is valuable for an understanding of the Coca plant in several important ways. First, it makes very clear that the alkaloid Cocaine along with other beneficial alkaloids present in varying concentrations in dozens of species of genus Erythrolylum, not just in the Coca plant of the Andes most closely associated with Cocaine production. These Cocaine and alkaloid-rich wild species are broadly distributed – principally but not exclusively in South America. You’ll find an entire chapter in the Coca Cultivators Handbook dedicated to this topic.
An interesting aside – not mentioned by the authors of this study – is that in the 1800s there were dedicated efforts to cultivate Coca plants in many parts of the world including Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico, Java, Algeria, and the Western US, so it is highly likely that if one looked carefully one would find wild, escaped descendants of the original plantings in at least some of those places today.
Another thing that makes this research interesting is that the experiments were conducted on leaves of wild Erythroxylum species used botanical samples collected many years ago and kept since in collections in various research institutions. In other words, the samples tested were 30-50 years old!
The fact that the researchers found Cocaine in dozens of species by examining specimens that old begs the question – what is the Cocaine and beneficial alkaloid concentration in fresh specimens of these wild species? Since it is well-known among indigenous Andean people that fresh Coca leaves are superior to even year-old leaves, you have to think that fresh leaves from some of the wild species identified in this study would make a very nice Coca Leaf tea.
But the real “Wow!” factor to me in this research is that of the dozens of wild species of the genus Erythroxylum scattered around the world at least some have most or possibly all of the alkaloid and other plant constituents that provide the well-documented health benefits of the Erythroxylon Coca of the Andes. While the authors of this study found that almost all of the wild species that contained Cocaine had very small amounts, you have to wonder what a little TLC (tender loving cultivation) would do to the alkaloid content of at least some of these wild species? Here’s an interesting answer to that question – a study of the alkaloid content of Peruvian and Bolivian Coca Leaf teas.
Who knows – this news might just inspire a whole new generation of PharmaBotanists to go forth and seek out these apparently 100% legal plants and in the process drive the DEA stark raving bonkers – not that they aren’t already.
Oops! It’s already happening. It seems that there are some very smart folks at work in the Andes coming up with new varieties of plants that don’t look anything like Coca but that produce Cocaine like a champ. Of course this is driving the Narcs crazy, but what did they expect? The small furry creatures will always stay one step ahead of the dinosaurs, which is why they will ultimately survive while the monsters crawl into their caves and go extinct.
Which brings me to another very valuable aspect of this research. The scientists not only tested decades-old leaves of wild species, they also tested contemporary Coca Leaf Tea products from Bolivia and Peru. Their findings should encourage anyone who is interested in using these readily available (in Bolivia and Peru) commercial products for dealing with health issues because the researchers conclude that some of the products sold in Bolivia and Peru are “pure Coca leaf” and others, even the “de-cocainized” products that are sold in the US (check Amazon), not only are not completely “de-cocainized” but they appear to still have a leaf chemistry profile that indicates they should be at least minimally effective for some therapeutic uses.
The Teas available in the US are definitely not anywhere as effective as pure, natural whole Coca leaf – but they are not altogether useless either. And (some of) the commercial Coca Leaf teas produced and sold in both Bolivia and Peru are pure, natural Coca Leaf – the way the great spirit of Mama Coca made them.
Final comment – although I have included information from the original article on the testing procedures the scientists used in working on all of the Wild Coca species, I have left out their extensive data tables for the sake of both brevity and simplicity. However I have included their valuable list of references for readers who might like to follow up.
Cocaine Distribution In Wild Erythroxylum Species
Stefan Bieri, et al
Cocaine distribution was studied in leaves of wild Erythroxylum species originating from Bolivia, Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Mexico, USA, Venezuela and Mauritius. Among 51 species, 28 had never been phytochemically investigated before. Cocaine was efficiently and rapidly extracted with methanol, using focused microwaves at atmospheric pressure, and analysed without any further purification by capillary gas chromatography coupled to mass spectrometry. Cocaine was reported for the first time in 14 species. Erythroxylum laetevirens was the wild species with the highest cocaine content. Its qualitative chromatographic profile also revealed other characteristic tropane alkaloids. Finally, its cocaine content was compared to those of two cultivated coca plants as well as with a coca tea bag sample.
© 2005 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.