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The real thing

Coca leaves for sale in PotosĂ­, Bolivia. Photo by teamtrev.

Have you ever tried coca? Numerous acquaintances of mine are familiar with the powdered form (not me --- I guess the 80s passed me by). I've only chewed the leaves and drunk the tea.

Coca is a sacred part of Andean culture. Since ancient times, spiritual healers have cast coca leaves onto the ground and read the future in them, much as a psychic would purport to read a crystal ball.

Before the Spanish, only Inca nobility were permitted to chew the leaf. Now, even the poorest of souls chew it, if only because it takes the edge off hunger and boosts one's ability to toil at high altitudes.

Coca leaves are not particularly intoxicating. Considering that it would take bushels of the leaves (rendered down with gallons of toxic chemicals) to create the smallest amount of cocaine, you can imagine how the leaves themselves must not be terribly potent. It's safe to say that the effect of coca in leaf form is just a foreshadowing of the power of the drug. The leaves aren't particularly yummy, either. They're mild and have a slight aftertaste of novacaine.

Coca tea, on the other hand, is quite nice. The flavor is mild and herbaceous, akin to a weak green tea. I've drunk gallons of the stuff, sometimes for pleasure, but mostly in a desperate effort to fight off the headache and nausea that comes with "soroche", or altitude sickness. Coca tea is widely available in supermarkets in PerĂș and Bolivia.

I know that back in the day, cocaine was overtly advertised as one of the active ingredients in Coca-Cola. You'd think the coca would've been long eradicated.* But I was surprised to read the other day that coca is still an ingredient. But don't worry. It's been "decocainized" for your protection.

*Spike is the herbide used by the DEA in Peru (and other Andean countries?) to eradicate coca crops in the mid-t0-late 90s.

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