The use of coca: prehistory, history, and ethnography

J Ethn Subst Abuse. 2011;10(2):126-46. doi: 10.1080/15332640.2011.573310.


The purpose of this article is to review the use of the natural mild stimulant coca, which is a story that originates with the prehistory of coca, evolves through its following historical uses, and leads up to the eventual development of cocaine. This discussion will begin with the botanical background of the coca plant, followed by a review of some of the prehistoric, historic and ethnographic evidence of coca use, which indicates the extensive antiquity and pervasiveness of coca use in South and Central America. The diverse roles that coca played among the Inca and other indigenous peoples led to the early adoption of coca in the West and, in turn, to the resultant discovery of cocaine and its assorted early applications, particularly for medicinal purposes.

Publication types

  • Historical Article
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural / history
  • Central America
  • Coca / chemistry*
  • Cocaine / history*
  • Cocaine / therapeutic use
  • History, 18th Century
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Medicine, Traditional / history*
  • Plant Leaves
  • South America


  • Cocaine