The Geography of Cocaine

Cocaine is a crystalline alkaloid produced from the leaves of the coca plant. It stimulates the central nervous system and suppresses appetite, creating an euphoric sense of happiness. It can also be used to

increase energy, and post production. We need not confuse the coca leaf with the actual chemically altered substance that is cocaine, for they are two separate entities. This essay will focus on the history of the coca leaf, throughout South America, as well as the transformation from the leave to the actual drug. We will also be looking at the production and markets of the drug, focusing on the target consumers and the effects the drug has.

Historians believe the first consumption of coca leafs dates back to 6000 BC by the Aymara Indians in the Andes mountains, significant in the social and religious organizations of the region’s pre-Columbian civilizations (Laserna, 1995; Erickson 1994) The Incas had adapted their myths and religion to conform to the plant. The leaf itself was said to be part of their daily diet in order to suppress their hunger and relieve their altitude sickness. Chewing of the coca leaves was at first reserved for Inca royalty, used for social, mystical, medicinal and religious purposes. Its use then expanded to the general public. They believed the plant had sacred origins and would therefore use it for various rituals and celebrations. The South American natives used coca for religious and medicinal purposes. It was also believed that chewing the leaf promoted contact with the spirit world and had healing powers.

During the Spanish conquest in the 16th century, the traveler Pedro Cieza de Leon wrote in his memoir “The Indians carry the Coca in their mouths, from morning until they lie down to sleep; they never take it out. When I asked some of these Indians why they carried these leaves in their mouths, which they do not eat, but merely hold between their teeth, they replied that it prevents them from feeling hungry, and gives them great vigor and strength (in Mortimer,1901). The Spanish originally restricted the use of coca but later gave in when they discovered it stimulated and sustained laborers. The cultivation and consumption of coca under the Spanish rule became so popular that the leaf itself was often used in the place of money. It was the most commercialized Indian product in the colonial Andean world, even used as capital in Spanish commercial exchanges. The coca leaf was chewed in a specific manner and an invitation to do so was considered of the highest honor among a society. Laborers would chew the plant to stimulate them and give them energy to continue working. The cultivation of the coca leaf and cocaine was mostly concentrated in Bolivia’s Yungas region, under the Incas. Laserna argues that 90% of rural Bolivians use coco regularly one way or another. Other countries exploiting the coca included Columbia and Peru. There has also been commercially cultivated cocaine in such places as Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Indonesia, Nigeria, Malaysia and Japan. For these countries cocaine cultivation remains a major source of income creating many jobs in the various stages of the creation process. Although the use and sale of this drug is prohibited and illegal, it remains a major substance in the United States. Cocaine HCI is odorless and classifies as a central nervous system stimulant.

One of the central reasons why the cultivation of the coca leaf is so appealing in terms of job characteristics is as follows. Coca can reach maturity within two years of planting, which is faster than most other crops. It has a relatively long productive lifespan and requires less attention and investment than other crops once it has been planted.

Also, once harvested and dried, leaves spoil slowly and are not prone to damage during transport. Coca can also provide up to 6 harvests a year in a region where most crops give 1. It also has access to a guaranteed local market, providing year round income and insurance against unusual weather-related or other disasters.
The plant is highly adaptable to many climates and conditions and can be grown in bad or depleted soils. It can expand the agricultural frontier into land not otherwise suitable for farming and in exhausted soil.
A chemist named Albert Niemann first extracted pure cocaine from the leaf of the Erythroxylon coca bush in the mid-19th century. In the early 20th century it became the main pick-me-up drug used in tonics to treat a wide variety of sicknesses. Its popularity grew as an ingredient in patent medicines and other family products such as the ever hip Coca-Cola. The use of cocaine was however later removed from the beverage and only the coca leaves were used. However this craze soon grew into instances of addiction, psychotic episodes, seizures, and even death. There were several steps taken to fight the problems associate with the use of cocaine

Today, cocaine is a Schedule II drug, and comes in two basic forms such as powdered and freebase. The powdered form dissolves in water and it a hydrochloride salt where as freebase means it has not been neutralized by an acid and therefore not made into hydrochloride salt. The freebase form can also be smoked. Highly addictive, it can cause severe mental and physical problems and even death.

The central ways of using cocaine are either by inhaling, snorting, injecting or smoking. It is said that the substance develops faster when smoked.
Cocaine is a central nervous system stimulant that interferes with the re-absorption of dopamine, a chemical messenger associated with pleasure and movement. Such physical effects include dilated pupils, increased temperature and heart rate and also blood pleasure. The high from snorting can last up to 30 minutes, while that from smoking can last up to 10 minutes. Each user will react differently to the drug but the end results will always end in dependency and addiction and possible death.

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