Cocaine as a naturally
occurring insecticide

Nathanson JA, Hunnicutt EJ,
Kantham L, Scavone C
Department of Neurology,
Massachusetts General Hospital,
Boston 02114
Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 1993 Oct 15; 90(20):9645-8


Although cocaine has a fascinating and complex medicinal history in man, its natural function in plants is unknown. The present studies demonstrate that cocaine exerts insecticidal effects at concentrations which occur naturally in coca leaves. Unlike its known action on dopamine reuptake in mammals, cocaine's pesticidal effects are shown to result from a potentiation of insect octopaminergic neurotransmission. Amine-reuptake blockers of other structural classes also exert pesticidal activity with a rank order of potency distinct from that known to affect vertebrate amine transporters. These findings suggest that cocaine functions in plants as a natural insecticide and that octopamine transporters may be useful sites for targeting pesticides with selectivity toward invertebrates.

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