ON landing in La Paz on Thursday July 9, 2015, the 78-year-old Catholic Pontiff, Pope Francis, appeared bright and alert during his welcoming speech after kicking off his tour of Bolivia by drinking a special brew made of coca leaves, the main ingredient in cocaine.
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.
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 the AFP.
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.”