Travellers Beware—tea that makes your pee test positive for cocaine: Coca leaves aren’t cocaine. You don’t get high from coca but it helps you deal with being high in elevation. I get more kick from coffee than coca tea and coffee tastes better. Coca whether chewed or brewed tastes like what I’d imagine a horse turd tastes like. I’ve consumed large quantities of coca leaves in Peru to help prevent altitude sickness and felt nothing and wasn’t sure it even did anything. Then at high elevation in Kyrgyzstan my face swelled, sticky fluid seeped through my skin and my lungs gurgled. It was the first time I’d been over 13,000 ft. in elevation without coca and I suffered dangerously from edema.
So, coca doesn’t get you high. It hasn’t been processed into a drug. It is a bad tasting cup of tea (better in toffees) that alleviates soroche (altitude sickness) and your tour guides, plus the hotels and restaurants in South America will innocently push it at you, assuring you that it isn’t cocaine, because it isn’t, just like poppy seeds on your bagel aren’t heroin.
But here’s the problem: if you work somewhere that does urine testing for drugs, coca leaf consumption can cause you to test positive for cocaine use. A study published in 2006 found even 36 hours after having consumed coca tea that the majority of test subjects still tested positive from a cocaine urine analysis. And yes, there have been cases in the US of job loss due to coca tea consumption being misinterpreted as drug use.
By Kirsten Koza
(Below photo from my first trip to Peru: “spit and a prayer” – after chewing coca leaves the locals spit it out respectfully and then make a little monument for the coca) (Coca monuments from thousands of years as far as the eye can see)
(More detailed reading on the topic available at US National Library of Medicine)
You can join Kirsten for a cup of coca or cocoa in Peru Aug 2-15.