Coca Leaf vs. Cocaine

Drug Policy Question of the Week – 8-3-11

As answered by Mary Jane Borden, Editor of Drug War Facts for the Drug Truth Network on 8-3-11.

Question of the Week: What is the difference between coca leaf and cocaine?

According to a paper from Yale University,

“Coca leaves are grown from bushes native to the Andes. The leaves contain alkaloids that can be extracted to produce commercial cocaine.”

The Transnational Institute says,

“Coca leaf consumption is an integral part of Andean cultural tradition and world view. The principle uses are [as an] energizer, medicinal, sacred, and social.”

And goes on to describe,

“One of the main properties of the coca leaf, which has been and continues to be used industrially, is its medical potential as an anaesthetic and analgesic.”

Accion Andina recounted that,

“A new use for the leaf was discovered between 1855 and 1860. Two German scientists …are given credit for having first extracted the pure cocaine alkaloid from coca leaves.”

A Fordham University Law Review article describes the leaf’s conversion to cocaine hydrochloride.

“After pulverizing [the leaves] into a coarse powder, alcohol is added and distilled off in order to extract the most pure form of cocaine alkaloid.” Cocaine anesthetizes and stimulates the central nervous system.”

However, according to Accion Annida,

“The prophetic “Legend of the Coca Leaf” presages us of the difference between the way the leaf is used traditionally in the Andes, and the corrupted form used by Western conquerors. As the Sun God said to the Andean wise man Kjana Chuyma: “[coca] for you shall be strength and life, for your masters it shall be a loathsome and degenerating vice; while for you, natives, it will be an almost spiritual food, for them it shall cause idiocy and madness”

These facts and others like them can be found on the new Coca Leaf subchapter of Drug War Facts at