Travel medicine, coca and cocaine: demystifying and rehabilitating Erythroxylum – a comprehensive review

Bauer, Irmgard (2019) Travel medicine, coca and cocaine: demystifying and rehabilitating Erythroxylum – a comprehensive review. Tropical Diseases, Travel Medicine and Vaccines, 5. 20.

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Few travel health measures are as controversial as the use of coca leaves at high altitude; yet, there appears widespread ignorance among health professionals and the general public about coca, its origins as well as its interesting and often flamboyant history. Equally, the cultural and traditional significance to Andean people is not recognised. The coca leaves contain many alkaloids, one of which, cocaine, has gained notoriety as a narcotic, leading to the mistaken idea that coca equals cocaine. This article contrasts coca with cocaine in an attempt to explain the differences but also the reasons for this widespread misconception. By its very nature, there may never be scientific ‘proof’ that coca leaves do or do not work for travellers at altitude, but at least a solid knowledge of coca, and how it differs from cocaine, provides a platform for informed opinions and appropriate critical views on the current confusing and contradictory legal situation.

Item ID: 61093
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 2055-0936
Keywords: Coca leaf; acute mountain sickness; narcotics; cocaine; altitude; travel health advice
Copyright Information: © The Author(s). 2019 Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, andreproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link tothe Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Date Deposited: 27 Nov 2019 23:11
FoR Codes: 42 HEALTH SCIENCES > 4299 Other health sciences > 429999 Other health sciences not elsewhere classified @ 80%
45 INDIGENOUS STUDIES > 4599 Other Indigenous studies > 459999 Other Indigenous studies not elsewhere classified @ 20%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9505 Understanding Past Societies > 950506 Understanding the Past of the Americas @ 10%
92 HEALTH > 9203 Indigenous Health > 920399 Indigenous Health not elsewhere classified @ 10%
92 HEALTH > 9205 Specific Population Health (excl. Indigenous Health) > 920599 Specific Population Health (excl. Indigenous Health) not elsewhere classified @ 80%
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