High in the Andes Mountains of Peru and Bolivia, a low shrub grows, which is called a tree or coca bush (Eryhoxylum coca). From the leaves of this plant is a potent stimulant – cocaine. The history of this drug is rooted in antiquity. Locals – the Incas and their historical successors – have been chewing coca leaves for centuries. It is not known exactly when cocaine use began. Archeology data allows us to give an approximate figure of several thousand years ago. Coca leaves played an important role in the religious rites of the Incas, and also used for medicinal purposes and just in the process. When the Spanish conquistadors encountered the Inca civilization in the 16th century, they initially fought against the use of coca for religious purposes, for this went against the Catholic faith. But having finished the conquest of the Inca Empire, the Spaniards allowed the use of coca and even encouraged it: because they saw that by chewing its leaves, the Indians could work better and longer. In the end, the Spaniards established control over the use of coca by starting to use its leaves as a means of payment: the Indians paid them some taxes. The Spaniards considered chewing coca a sin and therefore did not use it themselves and did not distribute it among other Europeans.
Thus, until the XIX century, Europe almost did not know about the existence of the coca tree. But when European naturalists reached Peru, they became acquainted with this plant, and soon strange and often contradictory stories spread about it. In some, like the German naturalist Edwin Poppig, coca leaves were called deadly: “Chewing coca has the most disastrous consequences, causing the same poisoning as opium. With each time, desire increases, and the strength to resist decreases, and so on, until death will save the unfortunate from suffering. ” Other authors, like the Italian biologist Mantegazza, who himself, while in Peru, chewed on a coca, treated this plant more positively: “I laughed at mere mortals doomed to live in this valley, while I was swept away on the wings of two leaves Coca and flew through 77.438 worlds, each of which was more delightful than the previous one. ”
Neither quotation is a sufficiently correct description of the effect of coca leaves on humans. Nevertheless, Mantegazza’s point of view was much more attractive: in almost all historical studies, the growth of scientific interest in coca is associated with this Italian. The result of scientific interest was the appearance of coca leaves in laboratories, and in the 50s of the XIX century, European chemists were able to isolate a potent substance called cocaine from the leaves. This opened up a new era in the history of stimulant drug use. The fact is that cocaine in its pure form is very effective, while the coca leaf itself contains a very small amount of this drug. In addition, it produces a different and stronger effect if administered intravenously or sniff, which is possible only if there is an extract. Obviously, intravenous injection of cocaine produces the most powerful effect, because a large amount of the substance reaches the brain very quickly.