Erythroxylum coca—also known as Erythroxylon coca—has a naturally occurring alkaloid in its leaves. That alkaloid is called "cocaine." E. coca—depicted in this photo—is from southern Peru, Bolivia and the Amazonian rainforest. Its leaves are picked three or four times each year.


Cocaine is an alkaloid extracted from the coca plant (whose family name is Erythroxylaceae).  Among other places, it is native to parts of South America. Contrary to common belief, cocaine is not produced from the cacao plant (Theobroma Cacao) which gives us chocolate.  

Coca is a huge cash crop for Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Equador.  It has two main species in those geographic areas:

Cacao beans (usually called cocoa from a long-ago misspelling) come from Mexico and other countries, especially west Africa.

Chocolate is a food made from the seeds of the cacao tree. Ancient Mayans used chocolate in ceremonial drinks. Their drinking vessels (dating back to at least 754 A.D.) and vases have been found in Central America (including in Guatemala where a vase combines images of chocolate with wedding scenes).

Cocaine is not a food, although ancient people (like the Incas) chewed its leaves for thousands of years. People knew that whatever was in the coca leaves gave them more energy, but it didn't make them "high."

Not until cocaine alkaloid was extracted from coca leaves (in 1859), and the hypodermic needle (invented in 1856) was widely used, did people get into serious trouble with cocaine.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Apr 01, 2001

Updated Last Revision: Jul 04, 2019

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"COCAINE - IT'S NOT CHOCOLATE" AwesomeStories.com. Apr 01, 2001. Jan 19, 2020.
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