The erythroxylon coca plant, commonly known as the coca shrub, is a plant originating from the Andes mountain range in South America. It is the main active ingredient in the manufacture of the street drug cocaine, but to the natives of the Andes region it has long been known for other uses. Most notably, the people of this high-altitude region frequently chew the leaves.
The first effects felt when chewing the coca leaf are an intense anesthetic feeling in the mouth, throat and tongue. This is why many chew it to relieve minor pains, such as head-, tooth- or backaches. Sufferers of arthritis are relieved of most symptoms after chewing coca leaves.
Chewing the coca leaf causes oxygen to be absorbed by the bloodstream more readily. This helps the farmers far up in the Andes overcome altitude sickness, which is caused by the low oxygen content of air in extremely high altitudes.
The coca leaf by itself is a rather mild stimulant, something like coffee. It also acts to suppress hunger and thirst. The stimulant is enough to overcome fatigue.
The coca leaf contains vitamins and minerals. It has been found to contain iron, vitamins A, B1 and B2, calcium and other nutrients.
The active alkaloids cause the frequent coca leaf chewer to maintain incredibly white teeth. The same oxidization that is responsible for overcoming high-altitude sickness also keeps the teeth pearly white. Until, that is, the user’s protective enamel is eroded off completely, causing the teeth to rot out.
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