The coca plant, notorious for its association with cocaine production, is now making its way into the drug reform movement. As part of the expected “third wave of decriminalization,” the coca plant is being explored for its potential therapeutic applications, alongside other controlled substances like psychedelics. Companies are gearing up to specialize in different aspects of the coca plant value chain, from analytical testing for safe supply to research and innovation on its various components.
According to Ronan Levy, president of Safe Supply Streaming Co., the revived era of the coca leaf plant will bring both nutraceutical and pharmaceutical products to market. Safe Supply-incubated company Harbor, for example, imports coca leaf extract into Canada for analysis and exploration in the nutraceutical, food, energy, and supplement industries.
Levy explains that there are many therapeutic applications for just the coca leaf extract, which is essentially coca leaf with the cocaine removed. This opens up a range of possibilities, including the development of pharmaceutical products for FDA and Health Canada approval. Additionally, cocaine’s potential as a stimulant, similar to medications like Adderall, is of interest. Other potential applications include altitude sickness, oxygen uptake, and gastrointestinal disorders.
The historical background of the coca plant is comparable to that of psychedelics, with renewed excitement around its therapeutic applications but limited research available. The plant’s alkaloid cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug in the US, meaning it has a high risk of abuse but also therapeutic potential. In Canada, it is classified as a Schedule I drug, allowing companies and researchers to work with it under appropriate licenses.
Interestingly, Coca-Cola’s original formulations included coca leaf extract, including cocaine, in the late 19th century. Even today, decocainized coca leaf extract is used in small amounts in Coca-Cola. Once decocainized, there are no significant restrictions on the use and importation of the extract, which raises the possibility of regulatory extrapolation for other targets.
Safe Supply aims to span across the drug ecosystem, focusing on opportunities and needs without being limited to a specific drug. This includes considering MDMA-assisted therapy, cannabis in jurisdictions with emerging reform, and now the coca plant. Levy emphasizes the need for safer drug supply, especially in light of the fentanyl crisis, where toxic drug supplies pose significant risks to users. Technologies that enable people to test their supply and make informed decisions about what they put into their bodies are becoming increasingly important.
In terms of investment opportunities, Safe Supply offers exposure to a diversified platform of companies in the emerging drug ecosystem. This allows investors to participate in the potential growth and development of various substances across different geographies.
While the distribution and value chains for the coca plant have not been fully established yet, the pieces are starting to fall into place. Being an early mover in infrastructure building and identifying opportunities in this space can offer significant advantages.
Overall, the coca plant’s entry into the drug reform movement signifies a shift in perception and exploration of its potential beyond its association with cocaine. With careful research and regulation, the coca plant may prove to hold therapeutic benefits in various industries and contribute to the evolving landscape of drug reform.