Get real about coca: debunking the myths surrounding the ‘sacred’ leaf
The Coca Myths report destroys a wide range of myths which to this day surround the coca leaf, illegal under the current international law.
The Coca Myths report, released today by the Transnational Institute (TNI), destroys a wide range of myths which to this day surround the coca leaf, illegal under the current international law. TNI is one of the leading non-governmental research institutes on drugs policy.
According to the current international law on drugs, the coca leaf - just like cocaine or heroin – is a narcotic and therefore addictive and harmful to health.
“If this was true, many indigenous people from the Andes region who regularly chew coca leaves would die from an overdose. Or they would at least be addicted to cocaine,” says Pien Metaal, report co-author and a researcher with the TNI Drugs & Democracy Programme.
Every initiative to question the legal status of the coca leaf has so far fallen on UN's deaf ears. A study that condemned coca to illegality decades ago would never pass the scrutiny and critical review of today, to which scientific studies are routinely subjected.
“The complicity of UN bodies such as ECOSOC and the WHO in labelling coca leaf as a narcotic is not only insensitive, authoritarian and ethnocentric, it is also a betrayal of their scientific mandate and mutual respect on which the UN were built,” says Anthony Henman, author of the report.
Instead of a threat, coca leaf should be viewed as another valuable contribution to public health from ancient cultures and peoples.
"Allowing a world market for coca products such as tea would mean a significant contribution to
developmental goals in the coca producing regions. At the same time less coca would be used in cocaine production," says Metaal.
The Coca Myths report shows:
- Coca and nutrition: Coca is an excellent source of vitamins and minerals. It is a valuable source of calcium for geriatric population, often suffering from diary intolerance. But it is unlikely to become a major food source as it would be necessary to eat large quantities of the leaf.
- Coca and alkaloids: It is wrong to claim that coca contains no cocaine at all. But the cocaine alkaloid content of coca leaves is less than 1 per cent. Efficient extraction of this amount requires a degree of chemical expertise and series of elements, only to produce a semi-refined coca paste.
- Coca and addiction: An unpublished WHO/UNICRI study from 1992-94 on coca and cocaine demolished what remained of the coca-addiction argument. Its publication was blocked by the US ambassador at the annual World Health Assembly.
- Coca and environment: The costs to the environment do accrue by the increasing use of industrial products in boosting coca yields. But they pale into insignificance compared to environmental damage from alternative crops such as oil palm or sugar cane. Unlike these monocultures, coca is usually combined with subsistence agriculture, which helps maintain biodiversity and delay the depletion of productive soils.
- Coca and society: Authorities worldwide often accuse coca producers of hiding behind the traditional-use argument in order to protect the illicit cocaine industry. For their part, farmers often use the traditional status of the leaf as defence against forced eradication, while being aware that most of their harvest probably ends up as cocaine.
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