That Time We Tried Coca ​

Coca leaves, the unprocessed plant form of cocaine, is highly criminalized in the US and completely legal to possess in Colombia. Andeans across Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Bolivia have been chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea for thousands of years to help alleviate pain, suppress appetite, and treat altitude sickness.

We had to try it.

Wonderful little herb shop in Paloquemao, and helpful grandma.


First, she recommended that we mamar (suck and gently chew) the dehydrated leaves instead of fresh ones because dehydrated is a bit stronger and will keep well for our travels. Second, she recommended that we take a few seeds of cardamom for flavor. And third, she recommended that we use something to release the active ingredient to get the full effect. She likes to use wine, but unfortunately Colombia is dry for elections, (more on that in another article), and we couldn’t get alcohol. Many people will use limestone. We went with Tums.


Cardamom, tums, and coca.


Immediately upon putting the dry leaves in our cheeks and gently mashing it into a ball with our molars, it became clear that this experience is NOT about the flavor. It tasted a little like hay smells. But the cardamom helped make it much sweeter and more enjoyable. (Grandmother was wise.) To increase the release of cocaine, we chewed in small bits of antacids in intervals.


Cocaine ingested in this form is a slow, pleasant, mild stimulant. We first noticed that our cheeks were numb- that’s how you know it’s working. After some time, we noticed our hearts beating faster and a slight increase in our breathing. And I was in a pretty great mood. We found that the tea had a slightly stronger effect.

Overall, it’s not something I would do every day, but it’s an experience I’m very glad we had.