Domestic Coca Plant on Plantation in Peru.

The Original Use of the Coca Plant

Tupac was probably a huge consumer of coca—the original Tupac Amaru, the last and final king of the Incas. We’re talking about coca, the plant that is transformed into the white powder Pablo Escobar and other narcos push illegally to become billionaires. It’s the plant of the Incas and if you’re South American, particularly Colombian, Ecuadorian, Bolivian or Peruvian, then it’s the plant of your ancestors.

The Incan Empire, a polytheistic society, believed in Kuka Mama (Mother Coca) as the goddess of health and joy. Her severed head sprouted the first coca plant and voilà. Coca leaves date back to the Huaca Prieta settlement of 2500-1800 BC in Peru. The coca plant quickly became vital in Incan culture. By chewing it moderately, Incans would battle hunger and fatigue during the harsh weather conditions of the Andes. It also was used as a form of offerings to their many gods and an integral part of the barter system. For the Incas, it wasn’t a vicious drug, it was the plant of the people. So, when did coca turn bad?

Enter the Spanish invasion of the Incas in the 1500s. Spanish oppressors enslaved the Incas and forced them to work in mines while pushing massive amounts of coca in their system to control their bodies and minds. Fast forward to the 1800s, famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud, who used cocaine, and promoted its use as cure for depression and impotency. Essentially, Freud was the first drug dealer in history (without ever serving any prison time).

And, of course, we all know the story of Pablo Escobar and his band of drug tycoons. We highly doubt the Incas ever thought the coca plant would be directly responsible for the grotesque violence Colombia and other Latin American countries endured due to the cocaine trade. It’s sad. It’s maddening. But—good or bad—it’s part of our culture.

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