Coca (Erythroxylum coca) is a tropical plant native to western South America, which is often grown and cultivated in northern South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The Andes used coca leaves in many of their traditions and religious rituals, as well as medical practices, as it has several health benefits; people sometimes chew coca leaves to relieve hunger, pain, and fatigue and use coca plant extracts to cure colds and treat asthma. Coca tea is sometimes used to cure altitude sickness and relieve stomach pain and nausea.
The coca leaf contains many alkaloids, such as cocaine, cinnamate, ecgonine, nicotine and others. While the coca plant itself is not very dangerous, cocaine is considered to be one of the most addictive drugs in the world. Its short-term effects (over sensitivity, intense feelings of pleasure, anger, paranoia) are not as concerning as its long-term effects, which result in numerous health problems, both physical and mental. Regular use can cause the brain to adapt to the drug and become dependent on its chemical composition in order to function properly. It can also cause serious cardiovascular and raspiratory damage, as well as seizures and extreme headaches.
The most common mental health problems, which usually occur during cocaine withdrawal, are depression, severe anxiety, nightmares and trouble remembering things. Cocaine overdose, on the other hand, is not only dangerous, it is also life-threatening and deadly, as it more often than not leads to a stroke or a heart attack. In fact, in the last three years of the previous decade, there has been an increase in the number of cocaine-related overdose deaths of US citizens. Even though some agree that the criminalization of cocaine did not reduce the crime rate nor did it improve the general health of the people, the numerous harmful effects and the high toxicity of the drug are certainly a good enough reason to justify the prohibition of cocaine use. However, it is arguably more effective to help the people who have a drug problem, than to imprison them or burn down plant fields in order to "destroy the source."