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Pope Francis Samples Coca Leaves, the Main Ingredient in Cocaine, on Bolivia Trip

How about this headline for Pope Francis’ trip to South America: “Eucharist strengthens the weak, Pope tells congregation in Bolivia.” Or this one: “Pope calls world leaders ‘cowards.’ Or this one from today: “Pope sees notorious Bolivia prison where money buys survival.” No, of the 6 TIME Magazine articles during the Papal visit, two headline grabbers were much more interesting for TIME: “Pope Francis Samples Coca Leaves, the Main Ingredient in Cocaine, on Bolivia Trip” and “Ecuador Built Pope Francis a Holy Bathroom.”


Upon landing in La Paz, the 78-year-old Pontiff appeared bright and alert during his welcoming speech

Pope Francis kicked off his tour of Bolivia by drinking a special brew made of coca leaves.

On his flight to La Paz, Bolivia’s capital, the Argentine was served a tea of chamomile, anise and coca called trimate to help him adjust to the high altitude of the city, the Guardian reports.

Coca is outlawed by the 1961 U.N. convention on narcotic drugs and is the main ingredient in cocaine, but coca leaves are a staple in Bolivia’s agricultural landscape, and are often chewed as a mild stimulant, similar to coffee, or as a traditional remedy for myriad minor ailments.

As well as sampling coca tea, Bolivian Culture Minister Marko Machicao had earlier said that the Pope specifically requested some coca leaves to chew on his visit to the landlocked Andean nation, according to Agence France-Presse.

The Pope’s spokesman had also hinted that he might consume some coca leaf on his trip to show respect for local Bolivian customs.

Bolivia’s local indigenous population consider coca a sacred plant, a view backed by populist President Evo Morales, railing against U.S.-imposed prohibitions spurred by the so-called war on drugs.


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