Is Coca Tea Addictive ?

If you are a travel-holic and loves to travel in South America you may have drank a cup of Coca tea. Or you may have heard about Coca tea as it contains cocaine. In USA there are some restaurants offer Coca tea for their customers. It’s true that Coca tea includes cocaine. But it’s not addictive as you think.

What is Coca tea ?

This is famous as a herbal tea in South America. It’s also called as Mate de Coca. People live in Andes mountain range like Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina, Ecuador and specially in Peru this tea is famous. Coca tea includes one or two leaves of Coca plant. Some use dried leaves and others use raw leaves for this. It’s like a green tea with some bitter plant taste.

What includes in Coca tea ?

Alkaloids are the main components of Coca leaves which is the similar structure in cocaine. Alkaloids have the ability to act as a nervous system stimulant. That’s why using cocaine makes people high. But a cup of Coca tea contains one gram of leaves. That includes about 4.5 mgs of cocaine.

For what purposes it’s used?

Andes people use this plant as a herb. Although there were no properly conducted studies people believe it has following benefits.

As a natural energy booster

Ancient South Americans are very commonly used this as a energy booster. The records of using Coca is extending up to 8000 year ago, which is ancient Inca society. Even now a days miners of Peru and Bolivia used to chew a Coca leaf when they works. American and Canadian truck drivers also used this. As according to their experience it gives them energy to work long periods of time. And allows them to stay awake.

Reduce appetite and relieve hunger

This practice is also within minor societies in Peru and Bolivia. Due to their heavy works it’s normal they miss meals. And even due to poor economical backgrounds they use to miss one or two meals in a day. In addition to that they use to bite a Coca leaves. They said that it can reduce the hunger and even relieve the hunger pain. So they can work continuously.

Coca leaves as a herb
Coca leaves as a herb – image by andtam1 from Adobe stock

Relieve altitude sickness

You may seen a photo of Machu Picchu in Peru. Did you ever think that how these ancient people build such a huge city in that altitude. If you are a hicker you know what is the altitude sickness. In high altitude there are no adequate amounts of oxygen. So people like us lives in low altitudes get difficult in breathing, headache, insomnia, lethargy and fatigue. It’s very disturbing feeling for a hicker. So they use to take Coca tea, and by their experience they know it can reduce altitude sickness.

Act as an analgesic

As it contains similar structure like cocaine, it can act in our central nervous system. And block the pain transmission pathway of the body. As we know when a stimulant signal comes to our brain, it recognizes this as a painful stimulus. And it tends to us to avoid it. It’s a natural protective mechanism of body. But what happens if this pathway is blocked. Even the stimulus is there we can’t feel pain. Same thing happens with the cocaine and Coca leaves. According to ancient records people lived in Andes mountain range use this as a painkiller. Even they used this plant to reduce labour pains.

So is Coca tea addictive?

This is the million dollar question. As we know cocaine is highly addictive. Studies showed that taking cocaine by inhalation doubled the absorption than taking it from orally. That’s why most addicts use it by snorting. A “line of cocaine” is the famous way of ingestion. A line includes about 20 -30 mgs of cocaine. So a one gram of cocaine equal to about 30 to 50 lines. As we previously discussed a cup of Coca tea contains about 5mgs of cocaine. And bioavailability of cocaine through oral route is half from nasal route. So a line of cocaine equal to about 8 to 12 cup of Coca tea.

So is Coca tea addictive ? Theoretically yes. But it’s very less chance of drinking a that much of cups of tea in a given period of time. Even though it has same physiological mechanism of cocaine, it’s less bioavailability makes it less effective in the body.

Cocaine powder from coca leaves
Cocaine powder from coca leaves – image by Ildi from Adobe stock

Legal background

Coca leaves are legal to use in south American countries. But according to Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs on 1961 the uses are discouraged. The USA also accept to use decocanized products or cocaine removed products from Coca leaves. Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs accepts production or supply of narcotic drugs or a product with similar effect under specific license to use in medical treatment or researches. But every year there are number of foreign travellers get caught with Coca leaves in their luggage.

South American view for Coca

With the new international policies south American governments tried to control the production of Coca in their lands. Colombian government act strictly for this issue and burnt about half a million hectares of Coca lands in their country. This give a huge negative impact on Coca farmers. But they tried to bring their farms deep in to the jungle and make them difficult to find. Currently the Coca farming is raising again in Colombia.

There was a revolutionary act by Bolivian president Evo Morales in 2009. He stood in front of a United Nations meeting and dramatically chewed coca. “ The coca leaf in its natural state is not harmful to health. Not only do I say that as a producer of the coca leaf … but as a consumer of the coca leaf in its natural state”, he said.

Coca leaves in South American markets
Coca leaves in market – image by 8kersh8 from Adobe stock

False positive drug tests

Even you drink a Coca tea or chewed Coca leaves, there are some amount of cocaine enter in to the body. Even though it’s less than snorting cocaine, the amount is adequate you to get caught in drug test. Current drug tests for cocaine can detect even 150 nanograms in one milliliter. But cocaine amonut in blood reaches to undetectable levels 48 hours after consumption. So if you use a Coca leaves it’s better you to wait for some time before participating the test.

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Sapumal Edirisinghe
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