Contributed Story: The Truth about Coca

Evo Morales with a coca leaf

Three years ago I lived in Arequipa with a Swiss fella who loved climbing mountains. He organized a group to climb Misti. It’s a 2-day excursion. You camp at the halfway point so your system acclimates to the altitude.

On day 2 the Swiss fella couldn’t continue. He had altitude sickness and stayed at camp. He’d climbed several mountains in the Alps, and he was fit. He believes he couldn’t go on because he didn’t bring any coca.

I, one the other hand, brewed 2 liters of coca tea to drink in addition to water on the recommendation of a Peruvian who’d mounted Misti twice. It was a bitch carrying a 2-liter of coca AND a 2-liter of water in addition to all my other shit, but I never even noticed the altitude. Only the cold.

That’s my little anecdote on coca. Here starts Matt’s piece:

The Myth

Most Americans believe the coca leaf is the same as cocaine. The average American has not traveled outside of the US, let alone the Andean region of South America.

Yes, one of the coca leaf’s 14 alkoloids is used to make cocaine. But a 1995 World Health Organization report confirmed that when chewed, coca has no side effects. It doesn’t yield a “high.”

Cocaine is made from extracting the alkaloid and mixing it with sulfuric acid, kerosene, and methyl alcohol. The result is cocaine and its equivalent, crack.

Recently, my former U.S. Ambassador Dan Simpson made a trip to Bolivia and suggested ideas for improvement in U.S. foreign policy. In his article, Befriending Bolivia, he compared the coca leaf to cocaine:

Prior to being elected president for the first time in 2005, Mr. Morales headed Bolivia’s coca-growers association — coca as in cocaine, constituting an estimated 10 percent of Bolivia’s economy. Ah, Bolivia.

While I have no idea of his intent, he made a misleading statement – if not a lie – by framing Evo Morales as advocating cocaine.

Brief History of the Coca Leaf

The coca leaf has been a sacred plant in the Andean region for hundreds of years. And throughout history, there has always been a culture vehemently opposed to it.

When Pizarro and the Spaniards arrived in Peru in the 1500’s,  they banned coca. They withdrew the ban when they realized their Incan slaves couldn’t work without it.

In the mid-1800’s, cocaine was recognized for its stimulating capability by German doctors and it became a popular, legal pharmaceutical drug. It was later banned.

Vin Mariani coca wine tonic

A few decades later, Corsican chemist Angelo Mariani began developing coca products. From

[O]ne of his products made him rich and famous: Vin Mariani, a Coca wine tonic.

Mariani gained quite a bit of fame with his drink. It was  cherished by royalty in the United States and Europe.

Admirers of Vin Mariani included Queen Victoria, The Pope, President McKinley, and Ulysses S. Grant, who, dying of throat cancer, drank it while writing his memoirs.

Celebrity endorsements arrived from Thomas Edison, Robert Louis Stevenson, Alexandre Dumas, Jules Verne, Henrik Ibsen, and Arthur Conan Doyle.

It inspired John S. Pemberton’s 1885 coca wine drink recipe called Pemberton’s French Wine Coca. Later, after legislation in Georgia, a non-alcoholic, carbonated drink was developed: Coca-Cola.

Coca-Cola contains coca extract

According to this 1988 New York Times article, coca leaf is still used in Coca-Cola’s secret recipe, kept in a vault and known by only a select few employees. A Coca-Cola supplier is the only authorized American importer of coca.

See the Vin Mariani winery in Lima, Peru.

Benefits of the Coca Leaf

Coca has been used for years for energy and to deal with altitude sickness, a healthy alternative to coffee.

This Harvard study found that chewing 100 grams of coca leaves provides a full day of nutritional sustenance. Chewing 100 grams is difficult, but many Bolivians and Peruvians chew 30 grams every day. Getting 30% of their nutritional sustenance for what costs almost nothing is important when living in extreme poverty.

Should Coca Be Legal?

Cocaine trafficking to the United States puts a lot of money in the hands of bad people. The narco money comes from American and European demand, where artificially-inflated prices (due to mandatory minimum drug sentences) make the business so profitable.

On the other side, the coca leaf provides sustenance to poor laborers and plays an important role in Andean culture.

Why does the coca leaf have to be grouped with cocaine when they are two different things? Bolivia asked the UN to separate the coca leaf from cocaine in 2009 , but it was rejected by 17 of the 184 countries that were part of the treaty. Less than 10 percent was enough to impede the change.

Can we develop international regulations for production that circulates the coca leaf as a healthy energy supplement and mood enhancer? Powerful forces want to prevent this.

Here ends Matt’s piece. See his business: Aprender Inglês Sozinho.

I’ll add that George Washington, the Godfather of the American republic, was a fervent advocate of cultivating hemp for its fiber, which made strong rope and clothing. The unrealized benefits of hemp were one downside of the failed drug prohibition, similar to the demonizing of coca.

See my Narcoterrorism article or My War on Drugs Rant.

Support what Expat Chronicles is all about. Leave a tip to keep the laughs coming (and the news, insight and other stuff too).



  1. Duplicate comment
    Here in Colombia, in the precolumbian era, the Muiscas used to consume Coca in ceremonial vases called Poporos. They attribued magical powers for the coca, especially for opening the intelligence. Coca is very important also in the argentinian culture.

    Another very known product for its energetic dources its Guarana (seeds), that are now used in energy drinks like REd Bull.

    My father told me that when he was child, Coffee was banned the same way as drugs today, maybe the tendency is to legalize as they did in US after the “Ley Seca” (this comment is not very coherent, I’m tired, maybe I need a little of coca, but in Bogotá is very difficult to find)


  2. If this topic interests you I suggest “One River” by canadian botanist, Wade Davis.

    Davis gets heavily into the botany of the amazon basin including coca, rubber, and halucinatory plants.

    Coca tea would be great. There is a conspiracy perpetrated by Howard Schultz of Starbucks to keep it illegal in the US.

    If they legalized sniff, that would be wild., Every gangster between Buenaventura and Brooklyn, between Baranquilla and Barcelona — would suddenly be out of work.



  3. Only kidding about coffee mogul Howard Schultz.

    I later realized that internet is riddleed with ridiculous conspiracy theories.



  4. Having gone to Bolivia several times I am a big advocate of Coca leaves. The tea is soothing and mild and tastes pretty good. It definitely helps the the lungs to deliver more oxygen to the body, thus eliminating the light headedness of high elevation and the tired gassed out feeling.

    Chewing the leaves with “Lajia” – not sure how it’s spelled – or with baking soda, is great also. It will numb the jaw and face and also the throat and then stomach, as you swallow the juice instead of spitting it out. It is in no way a drug and you do not get high, but you do get energy off of it. Not a nervous jittery energy like coffee, but a calm and powerful energy.

    PS – Colin, it’s great for lifting. Try it.


  5. @ Jimmy – the gangsters wouldn’t necessarily be out of work. They would simply become artisans of a craft. Much like pot farmers are seen as “outlaws” only because the pot they farm is illegal. If it were a legitimate business, it would be a craft. They would taxed and subsidized like any other farmer and it would as you suggest give gunmen and real criminals reason for a new career path.

    Some of the biggest gangsters and/or politicians got their start in bootlegging whiskey only because it was illegal. Once it became legal they either opened legit breweries, or just switched their criminal scope to drugs, hookers, knock off goods or any number of illegal activities.


  6. @ Colin,

    For those who are looking for coca based products in Bogota, including their energy drink, check out WayraCoca.

    It is run by a Peruvian tribe, the Koripampa

    Wayra Coca:
    Galerias: C.C. GALERIAS LOCAL 2-128
    Chapinero: CR 13 No. 60-29 LOCAL 181

    For leaves and tea, these stores will help you out:
    Lago: Cra. 13 No 77A-75
    Park Way: Cll 41 No 24-20


  7. Recently took Rawley’s advice and chewed coca before weight-training and basketball.


    It numbs the throat just like doing bumps, but you don’t get high. You get energy, but not jittery energy like caffeine. And no harsh comedown like with caffeine either. Extra energy and stamina for sports!!!


  8. Glad you liked it Colin.

    One word to the other readers if you are in South America, buy it with the little charred coal from Veggies (Lijia- I think its called)

    If you don’t choose this Lajia, then use regular old Arm n Hammer baking soda which will do the trick but dries your mouth out quicker and after a few months can start to wear at your teeth.



  9. Finally,someone who knows the truth…Coca is only coca,left alone,no solvents added to that coca leaf,it is only coca..Now here is a dirty little secret the u.s.a.,the swiss,europe,does not want exposed ever!But as the great creature saids,”truth will out”,,and here it is.The truth is,every single extraction method,every single so called drug test,for cocaine they claim,,is actually a drug making kits,not testing at all…Every single so-called test kit has chemicals called ,”reagents,”.Any guess’s what those ”reagants are”??Any guess as to what the chemicals are used in ,”extraction,”??Well this article names them..Every single making/test kit uses the chemical ,”reagents,” ethanol and hydrochloric acid in that making/test kit..Anotherwards ladies and gentemen,if u are demanded to pee in that cup,inside that cup,before u ever pee in it,is ethanol and hydrochloric acid.Every single liquid base test kit,has ethanol and acid already in thatkit before any other substances is put in that test kit.So they are ,”making the molecule of a drug,”not testing for it.Simply put,,,coca +ethanol+hydrochloric acid=benzoylecgonine[the ,”new” u.s.a.governments cocaine,”..Coca + water+sugar=coca tea.If they did not use ethanol and hydrochloric acid in every single ,”kit” there would be NO,I repeat,NO=benzoylecgonine,ever!There making it thru the testing method,then turning around and blaming some innocent person who really only had a cup of tea,or a piece of candy mde w/coca,,,there blaming them for doing a terrible drug,when ,”they themselves just made it!!!!!They have never told the public the how they ,”claim”there is cocaine in them there leaves,,they just said there was..I mean can you imagen what the public would do if they knew 1] they say there test u for cocaine,but there not,2]they tell your employer,your life on the record for life that you tested [positive for cocaine,but they never tested you for cocaine!!!3]Can you imigene if the public knew that these so-called test are actual drug making kits4] can u imigen if the public knew that all ,”drug testing” was a compltete lie! It is,,these are not test kits at all folks.They have to make the drug metaboliyte,because they don’t have the so-called drug,sooo they make it.This is exactly why anyone will also so-call test positive for a opiate if they ate a poppyseed.The ,”drug reagant”in that test/making kit are chloraform and menthanol,added to the poppyseed,making a opiate molecule.This sooo bad on soo many levels,I don’t know about anyone else,but if I have a cup of tea,I have never ever thought of putting hydrochloric acid or ethanol in my cup of tea,& i doubt anyone else does.These test /making results stay on a humanbeing life for life!!!!What gives our governmentthe right to lie to usand about us ,to the point where they are willfully harming and destroying someones ability to ever get a decent job for themselves,there family etc,ever!!
    This ,”war on humanity,”[ie so called drugs,” is big money folks,big money.When u look at all the people employed by ,”our” tax dollars to fund this war on humanity,this proves they will sacrifies us,the lower classmen in their minds,to benefit themselves.Maybe money is truly the root of all evil,or is it evil thrives when good people do nothing?The bottum line is,these people employed by this war on humanity,will do anything to keep thier pockets full,so they will not go down w/out a fight.The truth is a good place to start,I think,,,,paita


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