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I am 55 years old and was born in Oruro (Bolivia). I am a psychiatric physician at the La Paz (Bolivia) Psychiatric Hospital, and I do research on the effects of coca leaf consumption. I am both founder and director of the "Museo de la Coca" (Coca Museum). I am married, with four children ranging in age from 30 to 18. I am an Andean culture activist, and am also in favor of improving the present misguided government policy on drugs.

-So you consume cocaine?
-No: cocaine is an unhealthy by-product of coca-leaf processing.
But I do consume coca leaves. May I tell you the legend of the creation of coca?
-Please do so.
-The legend has it that Pacha Mama ("Mother Earth") gave the coca leaf to the Andean peoples so they could bear sadness, hunger and pain in times of slavery...
-Is that an allusion to the Spanish conquest?
-Yes, it is.
-Please continue.
-According to the legend, the coca leaf gave the Andean peoples light to illuminate their minds, food for their bodies and consolation for their pain. However, if the foreign "executioner" touched it... it would become for him alone a poison, turning him insane!
-Well, well, that legend is...
-A perfect prophesy! Coca is wreaking its vengeance.
-And why is this substance the great panacea for the Andean peoples, while it represents poison and madness for the West?
-Because we consume it in its natural state as a vegetable. Cocaine, however, is obtained by attacking the leaf with a chemical process using acids, solvents and alkalis, that causes the coca to lose its good properties and become harmful.
-When did this happen for the first time?
-In 1859, when the German scientist Albert Niemann, of the University of Gottingen, isolated through these chemical processes an alkaloid from the coca leaf: cocaine!
-And is it known for how long the Andean peoples have been chewing coca leaves?
-Actually, they are not chewed: they are kept in a "plug" inside the mouth, macerated in saliva, so that their juices are absorbed slowly through the mucous tissue of the mouth... This has been done for at least 4.500 years!
-So long? How do you know this?
-There is archaeological evidence: there are mummies of this antiquity that still have remnants of coca leaves in their mouths, and there are figurines that represent patients undergoing trepanning with a lump of what apparently are coca leaves in their cheeks: Inca surgeons were already using coca as an anaesthetic!
-"Consolation against pain", the legend says. But... "food for the body"?
-Yes, It is very nutritious food!
-I had never heard that.
-I refer you to research by Duke, Oulik and Plowman of Harvard.
-Please give me a summary.
-Their conclusion states: "The ingestion of 100 grams of Bolivian coca leaf equals the daily recommended dose of calcium, iron, phosphorus and vitamins A, B2 and E". Coca leaves contain more vitamin A than any fruit... and twice as much calcium as milk!
-I didn't know that. It's amazing!
-That explains why it has been consumed for thousands of years by many millions of people: it has made an effective contribution to a balanced diet for the people in these high lands.
-Does cocaine retain these nutrients?
-íNo! It loses them. That is why it is dangerous: it inhibits your appetite... but doesn't feed you. And if cocaine addicts begin to lose their appetites, they become undernourished and susceptible to illness.
-As well as this negative effect, what other neurological effects are produced by the consumption of cocaine?
-Its regular consumption causes a deficiency in neurotransmitters (dopamine, in particular), producing a kind of Parkinson's Disease, as well as paranoid syndromes and delirium, and the neglect of proper feeding, hygiene and social behavior.
-An absolute disaster.
-In short: cocaine is such a strong stimulant that it creates addiction, and the addict loses his abilities of social and economic adaptation.
-And doesn't the same thing happen when coca leaf is consumed?
-No, it doesn't! The leaf contains translamilcocacine and sinamilcocacine (molecules that are lost in cocaine), that prevent addiction. I've made patients of mine who chewed coca all their lives stop the habit - and they suffered no abstinence syndrome! Do you realize what this means?
-That chewing coca leaves can cure cocaine addicts. Coca leaf chewing is the way out for cocaine addicts, just as methadone is for heroin addicts. I have been successfully applying this treatment in Bolivia for the past 20 years: before we used the chewing technique, we only recovered 25% of cocaine addicts- now we recover 50%!
-This is a wonderful piece of news!
-Yes, it is, and I have just written to Carmen Moya, Spanish government delegate to the National Program to Combat Drugs, who not so long ago complained in an article in El Pais that there was no "methadone for cocaine addiction", that in fact there is one!
-Alright, but... could we apply it here?
-Yes, we could! Spain can import Bolivian coca leaves and distribute them under medical prescription. The only convention held by the UN in 1961 on this issue authorizes its sale for medicinal purposes, as well as recreation and nutrition.
-The latter also?
-Thanks to this agreement, Coca-Cola imports thousands of tons of Bolivian coca leaves! They then remove the cocaine -using the services of Stephan Chemicals- in order to flavor their soft drink, and the cocaine removed is later destined to the pharmaceutical industry.
However, very little pure cocaine is available to industry nowadays, which is a shame, because it would be very useful: it is the best product for ophthalmic surgery, for example!
-There is very little legal cocaine... and a lot of illegal cocaine.
-Yes, this is because the United States promotes the destruction of coca crops, and the local governments, like that of Bolivia, obey them. This is catastrophic, because it enables the drug-trafficking mafias to establish a hidden control over crop growing... And this leads to all kinds of evils.
-What do you suggest?
-My suggestion is to protect the coca plantations, and foster its traditional use as a chewed product. Thus, the peasant would not be forced to sell it cheaply to the drug traffickers, as is happening now.