Coca is a densely-leafed plant native to the eastern slopes of the Andes. Erythroxylon coca is widely cultivated in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador. It is also widely cultivated in Columbia, currently the source of some 80 percent of the world's cocaine.
According to ex-New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, "Colombia has probably the best cocaine, the best heroin, and the best marijuana in the world. And the best coffee".
Typically, coca thrives in warm, moist valleys between 1500 and 6000 metres above sea level. The plant grows to a height of up to eight feet. The leaves are rich in vitamins, protein, calcium, iron and fiber. The cocaine content of the leaves ranges from O.1% to 0.9%; like the user, it tends to get higher with altitude. Chewing coca also counters the symptoms of 'mountain sickness' and oxygen-deprivation. The daily dose of the average coquero is around 200mg.
Chewing coca leaves with a dash of powdered lime is a nutritious and energising way to induce healthy mood without causing an unsustainable high. Unfortunately, it is not very good for one's teeth.
Stictly speaking, the leaves aren't actually chewed. Typically, the dried coca leaf is moistened with saliva. The wad is placed between the gum and cheek and it is gently sucked. The invigorating juices are swallowed. Lime-rich materials such as burnt seashells or a cereal are used to promote the separation of the leaf's active alkaloid.
Shamans from some traditional Indian tribes still smoke coca leaves for magical purposes. Inhaling the sacred vapors induces a trance-like state. Coca enables a shaman to cross 'the bridge of smoke', enter the world of spirits, and activate his magical powers. Alas the leaves don't travel well; and this ancient usage is uncommon in the urban industrial West.
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