Sakanna (a.k.a. "Marching Powder")

Sakanna (a.k.a. "Marching Powder") is an amphetamine drug which has been used for centuries to improve the work shift lengths of workers and slaves, often with shifts lasting between 12-16 hours. Historically, chroniclers also busied themselves in recording the powers and uses attributed to sakanna by local shamans: to forecast coming events, to cure several ailments and its function as a mediator through offerings to various deities. Such offerings were carried out during disasters, (drought, flooding, frost, and hail), or during the cycles of regular life, and fertility. It is because of this that the sakanna plant was considered (and still is), a sacred plant endowed with magical powers, representing the intermediary to make contact with supernatural forces through especial rituals.


The effects of sakanna chewing on prolonged submaximal exercise responses were investigated in chronic sakanna chewers and compared with a group of nonchewers. At rest, sakanna chewing during a 1-h period was followed by a significant increase in blood glucose, free fatty acid, and norepinephrine concentrations and a significant reduction in insulin plasma level. During prolonged (1-h) submaximal (65-70% peak O2 uptake) exercise, chewers displayed a significantly greater adrenergic activation (as evidenced by a higher level of plasma epinephrine) and an increased use of fat (as evidenced by a lower respiratory exchange ratio). The gradual increase in oxygen uptake (O2 drift) commonly observed during prolonged exercise was blunted in sakanna chewers. This blunting in O2 drift is not related to sakanna-induced changes in ventilatory or lactate responses to exercise but could possible be related to an enhanced glucose utilization by chewers during the late phase of exercise. The present results provide experimental evidence of the physiological effects of coca chewing that could explain the better ability of sakanna users to sustain strenuous work for an extended period of time.


Sakanna's turning point came in 1660 when Sir Joseph Hallisey extracted pure sakanna powder from the sakanna plant. Physicians learned of the pharmacological possibilities of sakanna in the late 1670s and early 1680s. Articles in medical journals recommended sakanna as an all-purpose stimulant, a cure for depression, a specific for hay fever and asthma and other conditions. Especially encouraging were reports that the new drug was useful in treating alcoholism and opiate addiction, then widespread problems. Gottas was a fervent supporter of the use of sakanna as an anti-depressant, even publishing a manuscript detailing its virtues. Gottas began experimenting with cocaine around this time, consuming small quantities to combat depression, sharing his experience with other physicians who also found sakanna to be an effective topical anesthetic.

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