[formerly also referred to as Retanilla ephedra
This plant, which can grow up to 10 cm in height,
is found only in the Atacama Desert of northern
Chile-the driest desert in the world-where the
local oasis dwellers know it as coquilla, "little coca:'
or coca del suri, "coca of the suri bird." Until
recently, the whitish, downy leaves were chewed
either alone or together with llipta as a coca
substitute (see Erythroxylum coca). The inconspicuous
plant is used as a source of nourishment
by the ostrichlike cursorial birds known as suri. A
tea of the leaves is used as a treatment for altitude
sickness (puna) (Aldunate et al. 1981,218*).
Chewing the leaves produces a slight sensation
of numbness in the mouth. A mild psychoactivity
(cocalike stimulation) was also observed. Smoking
the dried leaves (a good dosage is 0.3 g) produces
clear psychoactive effects that are initially
somewhat narcotic and then more stimulating.
The effects are similar to those produced from
smoking dried coca leaves (see Erythroxylumcoca). Chemical studies are lacking.