Coca is a sacred plant in countries like Peru and Bolivia, and it’s easy to see why. Chewing coca leaves or drinking coca tea can give you an energy boost and is traditionally believed to help prevent altitude sickness. It also has a number of traditional medicinal uses, including as an anesthetic and analgesic.
If you’re traveling in Peru, you can freely try both forms of imbibing coca. It is, after all, completely legal. (Follow this link for more info about illegal and legal drugs in Peru.)
But if you might take a drug test when you get back home — as part of a job interview process or random workplace screening, for example — be careful (in the USA, 40% to 50% of all employers perform some kind of drug screening). Chewing coca leaves and drinking coca tea can both result in a positive drug test for cocaine.
Drinking Coca Tea
Coca tea is the most common way of consuming coca, at least among tourists in Peru. It’s completely legal: many hotels freely supply coca tea bags, and trekking guides often prepare fresh coca tea by seeping the leaves in boiling water (an authentic mate de coca).
Coca tea is a mild stimulant. The alkaloids found in coca leaves are the same used to ultimately produce cocaine. But you won’t feel much from drinking one, two or even three cups of coca tea — maybe a slight buzz, but nothing more than drinking the same amount of strong coffee.
Coca tea bags can be decocainized (yes, that’s a real word), but you rarely find them in Peru or Bolivia.
Coca Tea and Drug Tests: What the Studies Say
Before you start sipping coca tea at every opportunity, be aware that it can result in a positive drug test. If there’s any chance you might have a drug test when you get back home, then you should avoid coca tea (and coca leaves) altogether, just to be safe.
A number of studies have tested the levels of cocaine metabolites in urine tests, and the results are similar.
In “Identification and quantitation of alkaloids in coca tea,” Jenkins, Llosa, Montoya and Cone concluded:
“This study has shown that consumption of one cup of coca tea results in detectable concentrations of cocaine metabolites in the urine for at least 20 h. Therefore, coca tea drinkers may test positive in a urine drug test for cocaine.”
Mazor et al. in “Coca tea consumption causes positive urine cocaine assay,” found similar results. After drinking coca tea, three out of five of their study participants’ samples remained positive for cocaine at 36 hours.
A study for Problems of Forensic Sciences also found that participants who drank just one cup of coca tea screened positive for up to 36 hours (this being the limit of the test). Participants drinking two cups all remained positive at the 36 hour mark.
A study conducted by the Jockey Club of Great Britain and published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine also found that just a single tea bag of mate de coca contains “a significant amount of cocaine” and can result in a positive test for at least 24 hours following ingestion.
Examples of Positive Drug Test Results After Drinking Coca Tea
It’s not hard to find real life examples of people testing positive for cocaine and then claiming (correctly of otherwise) that coca tea was to blame.
In 2001, a woman working at the Cook County Sheriff’s Office in Illinois tested positive for cocaine after a random drug test. The woman and her husband had previously been to Peru to adopt a baby. When the baby became ill, the doctor in Lima gave them some coca tea bags for the baby to drink. The woman began drinking them too, and continued ordering them while back home. In this case, the drug test result was overturned and the woman was reinstated.
In 2010, a probationary cop was fired from the NYPD after testing positive for cocaine. He claimed that his girlfriend’s mother had given him mate de coca after he was in a car accident, which caused the positive result. He was not reinstated.
In 2013, Ashley Beardsley, 23, of Long Neck, Delaware lost her job at the American Veterans Post. She tested positive for cocaine, but claimed her Peruvian coca tea was to blame. Her requests for a follow up test were denied.
Claiming that coca tea is the reason for a positive cocaine result seems to fall on deaf ears quite frequently. For the U.S. Department of Transportation, it’s officially no excuse at all. As its drug policy clearly states:
“You also must not accept such an explanation related to consumption of coca teas as a basis for verifying a cocaine test result as negative. Consuming or using such a product is not a legitimate medical explanation.”
There’s also the now infamous case of Peruvian footballer Paolo Guerrero, who was finally given a 14 month suspension after testing positive for cocaine metabolite benzoylecgonine in 2017. Guerrero claims he unknowingly drank coca tea in a hotel in Lima, and maintains his innocence. The suspension ruled him out of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
Chewing Coca Leaves and Drug Test Results
While it’s relatively easy to find legitimate studies on coca tea and drug tests, less research seems to exist regarding chewing coca leaves.
Not so many tourists in Peru and Bolivia chew coca leaves — at least, not properly, like a true Andean local. A brief chew on a leaf or two does next to nothing, and would likely release far less cocaine metabolites than a cup of coca tea.
But when chewed “properly,” the effects of coca leaf are far more notable than three or even four cups of tea. With a good wodge of coca leaves tucked into your cheek, and using llipta to activate the alkaloids, you can feel quite a buzz and the side of your head can start to go numb. Various types of llipta (or llipt’a) exist in different regions of Peru. In the highlands it’s often made from the ashes of the quinoa plant. A tiny amount is added to the coca leaves, improving alkaloid extraction when chewing. You can normally buy llipta at the same markets that sell fresh coca leaves.
I haven’t been able to find any studies to prove this assumption, but I imagine that chewing coca leaves in the traditional manner would easily trigger a positive drug test for cocaine. You have been warned…
Are Coca Leaves and Coca Tea Bags Illegal Outside South America?
Coca tea is legal in Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Argentina, Ecuador and Chile, but illegal in many countries outside South America.
You are not allowed to bring coca leaves into the USA. According to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, “It is illegal to bring coca leaves into the U.S. for any purpose, including to use for brewing tea or for chewing.”
While not so clearly stated, it is also illegal to bring coca tea into the USA. A 2016 document by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration states that coca leaves and any salt, compound, derivative or preparation of coca leaves is a controlled substance and is illegal in the United States. A “preparation of coca leaves” presumably includes coca tea as well as coca toffees and candies (also widely available in Peru).
Coca tea bags can be decocainized (yes, that’s a real word), and are therefore legal in the USA. You won’t find decocainized coca tea bags in Peru or Bolivia.
Coca leaves and tea bags are also banned in the United Kingdom. The www.gov.uk entry for Peru clearly states: “Don’t take coca leaves or coca tea out of the country. It’s illegal to import these items into the UK.”
Canadian equestrian lost her right to ride in the Olympics in Japan due to drinking coca tea and testing positive. Horrible.
What US tea company do you order from to get your coca tea? I tried it in Peru and also liked it and would like to get some more as quickly as possible.
Hi Tony, I’m arriving in Cusco today and will be at altitude for at least a week. I’ll be drug tested for work in approximately 1 month. If I’m drinking the tea regularly through the next week would it be out of my system by October. Appreciate any advice.
Hi Liam. You should be fine. As the studies mentioned above say, it seems that it remains detectable in your system for around 36 hours. So if you’re having a test in October, you should be OK even if you drink coca tea every day this week. Thanks, Tony.
Can we order leaf form so we can chew. I know it’s illegal but has anyone been successful at ordering this
There are some online coca tea shops that deliver to United States and Canada. They ship from US and Australia. They are called “Coca Tea Express” (https://cocateaexpress.com)
I bought coca powder from them and got it within a week in Florida.
This plant should be available like green tea.
David, the prices at Coca Tea Express are extreme!
You’d be better off going to Mysterious Bolivian, or the new gem I just found, https://teaforlifeusa.com
About half the price, and they sell genuine Delisse brand. I’ve had two orders from these guys since they reopened this year and the tea is great!
I used to buy it from Peru, but got sick of almost half my shipments getting stopped at the border…glad I can buy it in the States now 🙂
David , is the coca tea express product strong like the whole leaf teas made in South America ? Numbing effects ?
Yeah, their 3X powder really kicked some serious butt. My mouth was numb for almost an hour and I enjoyed the energetic buzz and euphoria. I don;t like the Delisse brand as it feels too yellow and dry. coca tea express has better products.
In the spirit of disclosure, “David” should do the sporting thing and reveal he’s actually Alex, the owner of Coca Tea Express…LOL.
Given that he’s stolen my (and other peoples) content in the past, I don’t suppose that’s likely.
Mike, owner of cocateausa.com
I must admit there are a few comments here that seem overly promotional. I’ll probably start stripping links from future comments, and deleting any that seem suspicious.
Delisse brand of coca tea is rubbish, it’s the cheapest and they use twigs in their “coca tea powder”. I never buy Delisse, there are much better options out there,
I just got a nice big shipment of 1 kg of coca tea powder from Coca Tea Express I have come to think that these guys are dead on right with their customer service and more importantly I have never lost money nor package ordering from this company! Its actually not a rip in any way and these guys got Acacia Confusa root bark too!!! Which I’m thinking of coming down with a nice big old case of the bark myself. Cough! Uh uh uh huhhhh…😜 still seriously though you won’t loose your money or time dealing with these guys! https://cocateaexpress.com is the site url.
I’ve placed orders with Peruvian companies before and all my orders got seized by customs.
I think going to Peru and buying tea there is the best but you can’t bring it to United States because of US customs and even Peru customs don’t allow to take coca tea out of the country. Coca Tea Express have good powder, I bought from them many times before, always potent. Good luck!
Thanks, Tony for posting this. It’s important for people to realize that they can test positive for cocaine use after drinking this tea. It’s a shame really, as the test is unfair and doesn’t distinguish between a tea drinker and a cocaine abuser…and these are two very different distinctions!
I’ve been using Delisse coca tea bags and Delisse coca tea powder for the past few years, and the effect for me has been dramatic.
I’ve never found any other herbal product that eliminates my chronic tiredness and brain-fog, and I’ve tried pretty much everything.
My daily routine, after coffee, is to eat two teaspoons of the Delisse coca powder. This eliminates any sign of tiredness and prepares me for at least 3 hours of much clearer thinking, whilst giving me the energy to get on with a busy day.
After that initial surge wears off, I’ll drink a cup or two of the tea after lunch to regain my energy and focus.
It’s also great as a pain reliever and for stomach upsets…
Anyway, thought I’d share my personal observations with you. I’ve never had the luxury of trying fresh coca leaves, but if the coca tea bags and powder I’ve used for the past few years is anything to go by, the fresh leaves, chewed properly, must be amazing!
And yes, you can get it easily in the US…make sure when Googling for coca tea that the website you buy from is based in the States and state clearly that they ship only from within the USA…that way you’ll never have to worry about Customs seizures 🙂
Hi I see I can buy coca tea bags on the internet Delisse Matte brand is this legal? Has anyone in the US been arrested for buying or selling this product.
Hi Terry. Coca and any derivative or preparation of coca leaves is on the List of Schedule II drugs in the USA, along with things like opium and cocaine. So in theory you could certainly be arrested. But as far as I know no one is ever arrested for possession of coca tea bags in the USA (although there may have been some cases in the past). But yeah, it is officially illegal in the USA. Thanks, Tony.
Greetings Tony, Just wanted to thank you for you your site and all the interesting posts.
Was wondering whats the best COCA TEA on the market aside from boiling coca leaves ?
Hi Craig. In all honesty, I really don’t know what the best brands are. I use coca tea bags occasionally, but it’s never as good as using the leaves, so I’ve never paid much attention to the brands, or compared them. So, yeah, can’t really help. Sorry! Tony.
Hi Tony, I am wondering if you would know any restrictions for Canada I am trying to see if there is any information you might know.
Also I am leaving in Santa Cruz for the past year and will be here for a the next six months I wanted to know if you would know of any blogging jobs or any information some peers of yours that are interested in knowing about Santa Cruz Bolivia might want to know while I finish my masters degree in NUR University.
Hi Bayan. I’m pretty sure that coca leaves and other coca products are prohibited for importation into Canada. I did a quick search and a Canada Border Services Agency superintendent says teh same in this article from 2014 : https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/top-10-drugs-seized-at-montreal-s-trudeau-airport-1.2728341 But I’ve also read that no one in Canada has ever been charged with bringing coca leaves into Canada, although I don’t know if that’s true. As for blogs and sites in Bolivia, I can’t really think of anything right now. I’m sure there are some that accept guest posts, but I don’t know of any that pay. But there are loads of travel sites out there that do pay for articles, so you can easily find some of them with a little research. Thanks, Tony.
Thanks Tony will keep looking at some options.
Hi the best or at least the most known coca mate or tea in Bolivia is Windsor, but I also enjoy the frutte brand. I hope you find it in Peru. Cheers
You want “Delisse: Mata de Coca”, that’s the most popular brand. It’s what they serve and drink all day all over the country of Peru.
I was fired last Friday after my company (in Texas) received a positive cocaine test. The only thing a can related is a trimate produced in Bolivia which I drink frequently.
I’ll try to explain the company the reason of a screening marking 1323 when it is considered positive over 100.
Sorry to hear that Manuel. It’s worth trying to gather some evidence to help your case, especially regarding the trimate, which could certainly cause a positive result for cocaine. Good luck. Tony.