The Coca Plant:
By: Asma Sulaiman
Figure 1. Appearance of the Coca plant (Howard R.A, n.d.).

The Coca (scientific name: Erythroxylum coca) is a tropical shrub originating from South America, mainly growing in the Andean Region which includes Bolivia, Columbia and Peru (Hobhouse, et al, 2007) (See Map. 1). It also grows in Africa, Taiwan and Indonesia (Rottman, 2001).
The branches of the Coca are straight and it has thin, green, oval-shaped leaves, which are the main source for the stimulant, Cocaine (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010). Its flowers are small and slightly yellow and are found in small groups on the stalk. The flowers may mature into red berries (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010). (See Fig. 1)
The Coca Plant is best grown in moist, warm conditions; however, the leaves of the plant, from which Cocaine is obtained, prefer drier conditions (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010)
It contains many mineral nutrients, oils and compounds and its leaves are used in several ways and methods, such as in brewing Coca tea and in chewing (Blickman, 2009). However, the main use of the Coca plant is in the production of Cocaine.

Map 1 The dark grey portions show the cultivation of the Coca plant in the Andean Region (United Nations Office, 2005)

Product: Cocaine
Cocaine is a compound which is extracted from the leaves of the Coca Plant, as shown in Figure 2. When extracted, in appearance, it is normally a white powder-like crystalline substance (called Cocaine Hydrochloride), but it can be processed into other forms (Buddy T., 2009). (See Fig. 3) Cocaine can be injected, snorted or swallowed.

Figure 2 The white powdered Cocaine is extracted from the green leaves of the Coca plant (The Good Drugs Guide, n.d.)

Figure 3 (a) A piece of compressed Cocaine powder (Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d.)
Figure 3 (b) Cocaine in its original powdered form. (U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, n.d.)

Making of Cocaine:
Before cocaine can be extracted from the Coca Plant, the leaves must be left in thin layers under direct sunlight for them to dry (Hobhouse, et al, 2007). After that, they are collected and placed in slightly wet sacks (Hobhouse, et al, 2007). The sacks must be damp in order to maintain the leaves' quality. (Hobhouse, et al, 2007).
The Coca leaves are, then, crushed and grinded and placed in a solution of alcohol or a similar solvent that would separate cocaine from the leaves, such as kerosene or gasoline (Alberta Drug Rehab, n.d.). The cocaine is separated from the leaves using simple distillation. The liquid left contains some alkaloids of cocaine, which is separated from the liquid by adding acid (Alberta Drug Rehab, n.d.). The alkaloids removed are added to kerosene. The kerosene is removed and the remaining crystals are dissolved in methyl alcohol. They are re-cooled to form crystals and then dissolved again in sulfuric acid, resulting in impure cocaine (Alberta Drug Rehab, n.d.).
To convert this cocaine to the powdered cocaine, the freebase cocaine is soaked in acetone and filtered. Hydrochloric acid is then added, forming a precipitate which is dried to form the product, cocaine.

Figure 4 outlines the process which forms cocaine hydrochloride.
Figure 4 A flowchart outlining the steps that produce cocaine.

Beneficial Impacts of Cocaine
Cocaine has quite a few uses in our society. This drug is used as an anesthetic in hospitals before numerous medical performances, such as biopsy, cleaning wounds, etc, to briefly numb the lining of the mouth, nose or throat (Thomson Healthcare Inc, 2010). Cocaine also decreases bleeding and swelling as it constricts blood vessels (MedicineNet, n.d.). Due to this, cocaine has helped many patients get rid of pain.
Cocaine has not replaced anything as cocaine itself was the first used anesthetic (Bigelow B.C, et al, 2006).
The production of cocaine has greatly improved the economy of the Andean Region in South America. The making of cocaine has given many people jobs to do and it is one of the largest sources of foreign exchange in that region (Clawson, et al, 1996).
The usage of cocaine causes great feelings of exhilaration, decreases tiredness, increases one’s mental concentration and generally increases a person’s confidence (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010). It also relieves hunger and thirst (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010). However, although these feelings may seem advantageous to humans, this may have a negative impact, which will be discussed in the next section.

Figure 5 shows cocaine being used in medicine.

Figure 5 Cocaine hydrochloride for medicinal use (Wikipedia, 2009)

Harmful Impacts of Cocaine
Cocaine has many negative effects on users and on society. Continuous use of cocaine is very dangerous (Buddy T., 2009). Those who use cocaine may become addicted to it, mainly due to the euphoric feelings it causes (Encyclopedia Britannica Kids, 2010). This may result in compulsive behavior. Regular use of cocaine may cause insomnia, depression, nervousness and fatigue (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2010). It may also cause blurred vision, nausea, loss of appetite, sinus infections and chest pains (Buddy T., 2009). It also causes hallucinations and digestive disorders, heart diseases and attacks, respiratory problems and seizures which may ultimately lead to death (Encyclopedia Britannica Kids, 2010; Buddy T., 2010).
Because of these side effects caused by cocaine, cocaine is slowly being replaced by other safer drugs like procaine (Brown W., et al, 2009).
The negative effects of cocaine have caused the use of cocaine to be prohibited without a prescription; however, many people illegally use cocaine and use illegal methods of selling and purchasing cocaine.

The Coca Plant or Erythroxylum coca is a plant which produces the powerful stimulant, cocaine. The coca plant is mainly cultivated in the Andes region in South America, but it can be found in other countries as well. Cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant. The main use of cocaine is as an anesthetic, but it is slowly being replaced by safer drugs, such as procaine as cocaine has many harmful side effects, which could actually lead to death. The production of cocaine has affected the economy in both positive and negative ways.


1. Alberta Drug Rehab (n.d.). Retrieved from
2. Bigelow, B.C., et al (2006). Cocaine - Are There Any Medical Reasons for Taking This Substance?. Encyclopedia of drugs and addictive substances. Retrieved December 11, 2010, from
3. Blickman, Tom. (2009, September). Coca leaf: myths and reality. Retrieved from
4. Brown, W.H., et al (2009). Organic chemistry [pg 656]. Retrieved from
5. Buddy, T. (2009, August 04). Basic facts about cocaine. Retrieved from
6. Clawson, P, et al. (1996). The Andean cocaine industry [pg 192]. Retrieved from
7. coca. (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 07, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
8. Cocaine hydrochloride. (n.d.). Retrieved from
9. cocaine. (2010). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved December 11, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
10. cocaine. (2010). In Student Encyclopædia. Retrieved December 11, 2010, from Britannica Online for Kids:
11. Hobhouse, et al. (2007). Seeds of Trade. Retrieved from
12, Rottman, A. (2001, August 14). Erythroxylum: the coca plant. Retrieved from
13. Thomson Healthcare Inc., (2010, November 01). Cocaine (topical route) Retrieved from

1. cocaine powdered form. [Photograph]. Retrieved December 8, 2010 from U.S Drug Enforcement Administration:
2. cocaine. [Photograph]. Retrieved December 8, 2010, from Encyclopædia Britannica Online:
3. Howard, R.A. (n.d.) [Photograph] (picture)
4. United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes, (2005, June) [Image of Coca Cultivation Map]. Coca cultivation survey Retrieved from
5. Wikipedia, (2009, June 24), Cocaine Hydrochloride for medicinal use) [Photograph] Retrieved from