Coca and Bolivia

Coca is a cultivated plant from the family of Erythroxylaceae, native to western South America. Currently the cultivation, sale, and possession of unprocessed coca leaf is only legal in Bolivia, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Actually it’s partially legal in the US and the entire world too because Coca-Cola still uses Coca leaf extracts (without cocaine) as ingredient for the Nr. 1 soft drink.

Image: Green Coca leaf powder in Samaipata, Bolivia most likely to be used for a Coca tea

Coca in Bolivia

Coca has been cultivated for thousands of years in Andean South America, where it still has many medicinal and religious uses. But the leaf can also be processed into cocaine and crack, a fact that has placed coca in the crosshairs of the United States-led war on drugs for decades. Bolivia’s President Evo Morales, a former coca farmer himself, lived through some of the most violent times between Coca farmers and US-backed coca eradication forces. Still leader of the nation’s largest coca growers’ union, President Morales’ rallying cry of “coca yes, cocaine no,” was heard around the world as he expelled the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 2008 and scored a recent victory in the UN to legitimize coca chewing within Bolivia.

Bolivia is the third largest coca producer, following Peru and Colombia. US counterdrug officials claim that coca production is mainly used for cocaine. Narco Traffickers from Colombia and Peru use Bolivia’s resources for refining coca paste into cocaine.

Hojita de coca

Hojita de Coca siempre por la boca siempre feliz, nunca por la nariz. Siempre verde! Nunca blanca!

Coca leaf always via the mouth always happy, never over the nose. Always green! Never white!

The Inca god Wiracocha said that by the sea and in large ships, would come the white bearded white man, riding great beasts and they were going to be tough times for all Inca.

Viracocha gave them a gift that was the coca leaf, so that when they were abused and they feel sick they could chew the coca leaf. If they were hungry they should also cheap the leaf, if they were cold too, if they were suffering the same.
Wiracocha also said: Woe to him that the evil white man will used it wrongly. Because crazy he is going to get and die. Wiracocha knew.


Coca Tea and Chewing

Brewing the leaves into tea is popular among all levels of Bolivian society, but among the working class, and especially for those whose labor is physically demanding, coca is usually chewed.
coca leafs in Bolivia
Image: Coca leafs in Santa Cruz, Bolivia. It’s common to have taxi driver chewing Coca leafs even more during their night shift to not fall asleep.

Chewing Coca Leafs

In Bolivia bags of coca leaves are sold in local markets and by street vendors. The activity of chewing coca is called mambear, chacchar or acullicar, borrowed from Quechua, coquear (northern Argentina), or in Bolivia, picchar, derived from the Aymara language. The Spanish masticar is also frequently used, along with the slang term “bolear,” derived from the word “bola” or ball of coca pouched in the cheek while chewing.

In the mountain village of Samaipata many of the local Bolivians and a lot of the expats enjoy the Coca leaf chewing all day long. I tried it once but you rather like it or not – I guess. For me it was not so different than the Maté or Tereré tea in Paraguay and Argentina.

Coca Tea Bolivia
Image: Coca tea is very popular in Bolivia and it does help when having a strange stomach for example


Coca products

You can purchase Coca derivated products directly over amazon today.

It’s interesting to know that Coca leaf extracts had been used in Coca-Cola products since 1885. Back in the days Coca-Cola were sold as patent medicines and tonics, with claims of a wide variety of health benefits… The Coca-Cola today we know for sure is clearly health damaging. In 1906, the Coca-Cola Company removed the cocaine from its soda, as government policy against the drug clearly spelled the coming end of its widespread legal use. Today the Coca-Cola company remains the sole user of coca leaf extract (without the cocaine) in the United States.

So they removed the little cocaine and keep on adding more sugar. Smart. You know why? Because it’s more addictive!

Sugar Cocaine
Image: PET Scan – On the left a brain on sugar. On the right side a brain on cocaine.


Not so long ago Researchers discovered that intense sweetness “is much more rewarding and probably more addictive than intravenous cocaine.” Or, to put it another way, the scientists’ findings “clearly demonstrate that intense sweetness can surpass cocaine reward, even in drug-sensitized and drug-addicted individuals.”



Coca Leaf for Medicine

Medicinal plants contain a multitude of chemical compounds, including alkaloids. The plants that are cultivated at lower altitudes contain a lower concentration of cocaine in their leaves than coca plants cultivated at higher altitudes. Curiously, chewing the coca leaf reduces the symptoms of altitude sickness. Indigenous use of coca has also been reported as a treatment for malaria, ulcers, asthma, to improve digestion, to regulate the bowels, as an aphrodisiac, and credited with improving longevity.

Coca is good for you, but cocaine can kill you. Today annual South American cocaine production is estimated to exceed one million pounds, much of which goes right up the noses of US and EU citizens.