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Pope's Coca Drink — a Bolivian Tradition for Pontiffs — Is Not Cocaine

Image: Pope's Coca Drink — a Bolivian Tradition for Pontiffs — Is Not Cocaine
Dried Coca Leaves and Coca Tea. (Ildipapp/Dreamstime.com)

By    |   Thursday, 09 Jul 2015 02:44 PM

Pope Francis may drink coca tea when he visits Bolivia this week, carrying on a tradition of other pontiffs, but the mild stimulant drink is not equivalent to taking cocaine, contrary to a few Internet reports.

The pope may even chew on coca leaves, as is a custom in the country, but Vatican spokesperson Fr. Federico Lombardi said the leader of the Catholic Church hasn’t indicated what he’ll do one way or the other, The Catholic News Agency reported.

The local tradition of chewing on coca leaves — which are used to produce cocaine — or making a coca tea from them is the South American equivalent of drinking coffee in the United States, the CNA said.

Although the United Nations’ convention on narcotic drugs in 1961 ruled coca an illegal substance, it’s a tradition that many won’t give up. Coca is used in everything from shampoo to flour.

The BBC reported in 2010 that archeological evidence indicates that chewing coca leaves was common in inhabited areas as far back as 8,000 years ago.

“A number of international studies, including one published by Harvard University, found raw coca leaves to be packed with nutrients including protein, calcium, iron and other vitamins,” CNA said. “A 1995 World Health Organization report said there were ‘no negative health effects’ from coca use in leaf form.”

Bolivia’s president Evo Morales has been a staunch defender of the cultural tradition of chewing coca leaves, and is a coca farmer, The Guardian said. He also has called the leaf “the hope of our people.”

In an editorial in 2009 in The New York Times, Morales wrote that the small percentage of cocaine alkaloids found in coca leaves was not a concern, any more than alkaloids found in tobacco plants.

“To be made into a narcotic, alkaloids must typically be extracted, concentrated, and in many cases processed chemically. What is absurd about the 1961 convention is that it considers the coca leaf in its natural, unaltered state to be a narcotic,” he wrote. “The paste or the concentrate that is extracted from the coca leaf, commonly known as cocaine, is indeed a narcotic, but the plant itself is not.”

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Pope Francis may drink coca tea when he visits Bolivia this week, carrying on a tradition of other pontiffs, but the mild stimulant drink is not equivalent to taking cocaine, contrary to a few Internet reports.
pope, francis, coca, drink, tea, leaves
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2015-44-09
Thursday, 09 Jul 2015 02:44 PM
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