Growing in the Andes Mountains---specifically in regions of Bolivia, Peru and Colombia---the coca plant has been chewed and brewed by natives for hundreds of years. Chewing is a somewhat misappropriated term. Actually, the wad of coca leaves are sucked on, held between the cheek and jaw. Typically, people add to the ball of leaves an alkaline agent, like plantain or vegetable pulp, to help extract the leaves' alkaloids. The effects of coca leaves, when consumed in this fashion, are beneficial and non-addictive to the user.
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The emotional effects of sucking on coca leaves are many. Euphoria, motivation, blissfulness and buoyancy result from the chewing of the coca leaf. In general, their effects are uplifting and energising.
After ten to fifteen minutes, when the ball of leaves is thoroughly moistened, an anesthetic effect sets in on the gums, cheeks, tongue and throat. This numbing condition is experienced in the lower tract of the intestines, as well. For this reason, many natives to the Andean region use coca leaves to treat illnesses such as upset stomach, headache and tooth pain.
Also, lumps of wet coca leaves are used to soothe hurt areas on the outside of the body, such as the site of a broken bone, joints pained with arthritis and general cramps and aches.
Coca leaves are often used to treat altitude sickness and the associated nausea that comes from being in the high Andes Mountains.
The alkaloids have an impact on the body's haemoglobin and increase its ability to oxygenate blood. For this reason, stimulation of the respiratory centres of the body have been observed in chewers of coca leaves. This is particularly important to farmers and miners in the Andean region, who are responsible for working long, labour-intensive days.
The negative effects associated with coca leaves typically come from the extraction and concentration of the alkaloids into cocaine sulphate, the addictive, white powder drug. This drug is addictive and illegal.
In their natural form, coca leaves produce no negative effects. The stimulating effects fade quickly, and to maintain them, more coca leaves must be chewed. However, there is no study to show that the sucking of coca leaves is addictive, and withdrawal symptoms are nonexistent.
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