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.
Although the claim that coca is part of the identity and history of the Andean/Amazon region is unlikely to be questioned by most countries, a possible removal of the coca leaf from the international control system is still met with considerable scepticism. 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, since one country will promptly proceed to the formal request removing the coca leaf from its current position in Schedule 1 of the 1961 UN Single Convention.
Many myths surround the coca leaf. Radically opposed views and opinions can be heard in the polemical debates surrounding this plant, and those not familiar with the subject are easily lost among all the apparent contradictions. The debate is politicised and has become subject to extreme ideological positioning. For some the coca leaf is as addictive as its best-known derivative cocaine, while others argue that it can cure half the diseases of modern times. For some, coca growing is the main cause of environmental degradation, while others claim that coca helps to protect the soil and prevents erosion.
By identifying the myths in pairs, each of these marking the extreme end of a given subject of debate, our aim is to pinpoint the middle ground where a new evidence-based consensus can emerge regarding coca’s undoubted stimulant, nutritional and therapeutic properties. We consider five areas of current concerns related to: coca and nutrition; coca and alkaloids; coca and addiction; coca and the environment; and, coca and society.
Myth 1 - Coca and nutrition
The use of coca is symptomatic of hunger and malnutrition / Coca is a solution to the world’s hunger problem
Myth 2 - Coca and alkaloids
Cocaine can easily be extracted from coca leaves / Coca leaves contain no cocaine
Myth 3 - Coca and addiction
The use of coca produces a form of drug dependence / The use of coca will cure dependence on cocaine and crack
Myth 4 - Coca and the Environment
Coca cultivation is devastating the rainforest / Coca is an ideal crop for poor soils in the tropics and will be cultivated everywhere once declared legal
Myth 5 - Coca and society
Coca farmers should be identified as drug traffickers / Coca farmers only grow coca to satisfy traditional indigenous uses
Read the full briefing: Coca Myths, Drugs & Conflict Debate Papers 17, June 2009