[formerly also referred to as Retanilla ephedra

(Vent.) Brogn.

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 Erythroxylum

coca). Chemical studies are lacking.

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