For centuries the coca leaf was a staple of Andean culture, widely prized for its medicinal qualities – especially in the alleviation of altitude sickness.

But the 20th-century drugs epidemic and booming demand for cocaine, for which the leaf is a central ingredient, saw the plant outlawed by governments around the world, with devastating effects for farmers who had grown it for generations.

Now an independent report commissioned by the influential All-Party Parliamentary Group for Drug Policy Reform has urged that coca’s illegal status be reviewed and research conducted into the possible legal uses of the leaf which, it is claimed, could benefit the lives of millions of the world’s poorest people.

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