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About 250 species in 2 genera (Erythroxylum P.Browne and Nectaropetalum Engl.) are found in tropical regions.

Coca leaves are derived from Erythroxylum coca Lam., of which three varieties are recognised (Claus et al. 1970):

Erythroxylum coca Lam. var. coca — yields Bolivian or Huanaco coca
Erythroxylum coca Lam. var. spruceanum Burck — yields Truxillo or Peruvian and Java coca
[syn. Erythroxylum truxillense Rusby]
Erythroxylum coca Lam. var. novogranatense Morris — yields a type of Truxillo coca from Colombia 

They are valued by South American Indians of Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia who chew the leaves together with lime to allay feelings of hunger and fatigue. Cocaine is found in the crude alkaloid extract of the leaves, but is usually produced by semi-synthesis from ecgonine which is the parent compound of most of the alkaloids present in the crude extract (Claus et al. 1970). Although it is probably best known as a drug of abuse, cocaine is the oldest known local anaesthetic, but is now used almost exclusively in ophthalmic surgery and surgery of the ear, nose, and throat (Wade 1977).

Cocaine, which occurs naturally in Erythroxylum coca Lam., has local anaesthetic properties and has been reported to have capacity to induce contact dermatitis.

Erythroxylum P.Browne

About 250 species are found in tropical and subtropical regions chiefly in America and Madagascar.

Erythroxylum coca Lam.

Cocaine, which occurs naturally in the leaves of this species, can cause keratoconjunctivitis, contact dermatitis of the eyelids (Duke-Elder 1965), and dermatitis of the fingers in dentists (Schwartz et al. 1957). It also has local anaesthetic properties (Wade 1977).

Watson et al. (1983b) reported that orally administered cocaine or cucsohygrine, but not benzoylecgonine, ecgonine, or cinnamoylcocaine, (alkaloids derived from Erythroxylum coca) have a pronounced inhibitory effect on the delayed hypersensitivity responses of mice to dinitrofluorobenzene (DNFB) when given prior to, during, or after sensitisation.


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Richard J. Schmidt

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