The Powerful Coca Leaf

The coca plant is part of the cultural fabric of the northern Andes. Inca nobility chewed the plant, as suggested by the discovery of pre-Columbian statues with bulging cheeks--presumably crammed with coca leaves. The same practice was observed by the explorer Amerigo Vespucci in what is now northern Venezuela during his first voyage around the world, in 1499.

Miners in the Andes have long used coca leaves to suppress hunger and induce a mild euphoria to help them ignore the cold. Others use them as an anesthetic or to ward off altitude sickness. For many, coca leaves are simply a cure-all....

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