I Chewed On Coca Leaves And It Sucked

As I alluded to in my food porn post the other day, a series of unfortunate events during SXSW led to me chewing and swallowing (and subsequently, being gastronomically tortured by) the raw leaves of the coca plant, which are used to make everyone’s favorite drug, cocaine. I half-expected to get an email from EIC Jennifer telling me to keep my degenerate exploits off this fine and moral blog, but instead I got one saying “TELL ME MORE,” so I will.

When I got to Austin last Wednesday afternoon, I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I promised to pace myself. Neither drink nor drug passed my lips for a full 24 hours, which, if you’ve ever hung out with me at Southby, you know is kind of amazing. I was even the designated driver! By the time my friend’s after party rolled around Thursday night, I felt I deserved a treat.

When I got to the party around 2am, I saw my friend Dana chilling atop of a pile of cardboard with a new pal. One thing I love about this girl is that she immediately locates the coolest/weirdest person at the party to hang out with, and in this instance it was a large, gay, Mexican guy in a clown suit. Here’s a short video clip of him dancing:

He had this little baggie of leaves with him, which he explained like this: Austin had just had a major coke bust and it was nigh impossible to get the stuff anymore. (I later discovered it was not hard at all, but whatever.) However, he had obtained some raw coca leaves, which were just as good as–nay, better than–cocaine:

“You hold it in your mouth for a while and activate it with baking soda, and it will totally get you high. It’s totally pure, man. Not stepped on at all. The Indians chew it for energy in the jungle.”

That sounded a bit suspect, but Southby is all about having new experiences, so I was down.

On the way to the bodega to buy baking soda, Dana met some transvestites and started booty poppin’ with them on a car to no music but the wonderful music in their heads until a horse cop rode up and told them to simmer down. Just to give you an idea of what kind of night it was.

Baking soda obtained, we proceeded to try to make crack in our mouths, but not much happened. My tongue got a little numb, but mainly I just felt annoyed that I had to keep holding all this gross-tasting stuff in my mouth. My teeth and saliva began to break down the leaves.

“Is it okay if I swallow it?” I asked the Mexican clown. “Oh, totally,” he replied. “It keeps working in your stomach.” I was 90% sure that wasn’t true, but I swallowed them anyway, because it’s hard not to swallow a leaf once you’ve been chewing on it for a while.

It never worked, not even a little, unless you count “making me feel like I was going to die” as working. When I got home, I sat by the toilet for an hour but couldn’t throw up, so eventually, I fell asleep. The next day, I passed it out the other end of my system and felt better, but I still couldn’t eat for a few hours. I now understand why people decided to make that shit into snort-able powder. Coca leaves are very inefficient!

It’s unfortunate my iPhone wasn’t working the whole time I was there, or I might have gone on Wikipedia and read this:

The coca alkaloid content in coca leaves is negligible: between .25% and .77%,[4] which means two things: first, traditional chewing or drinking coca tea does not produce the high (euphoria, megalomania) people experience with cocaine.[5] Second, someone must apply complex chemical processes using any type of alcohol/acid base chemicals to the plant in order to transform it and obtain a concentration of coca alkaloid that is high enough to produce the transformation to cocaine paste and the high associated with cocaine.

Nevertheless, I tried a new new drug the next day in the form of an obscure anti-narcolepsy medication, and that made me feel excellent. You win some, you lose some. It also gave me a story to tell people that made them think I was kind of dumb, hence disarming them for my journalistic efforts. It even helped me meet Skrillex! I’m not in any rush to do it again, but it certainly could’ve been worse. And if you’re somewhere reading this, my gay Mexican clown friend, I still think you’re pretty cool.

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    • D.A.

      The Incas actually used coca leaves to keep slaves/laborers awake and not hungry. Good luck next time ;)

    • Jennifer Wright

      Your happy vacation is actually a thing that I wake up from night terrors about in a cold sweat.

      So, glad you had fun!

    • Fabel

      Thank you for writing this, because I read your first post & just decided not to question anything (on the chance it was maybe…not cocaine related at all?) So yeah– informative!

    • Crawler

      Looks more like Bay leaves to me, no wonder it didn’t work.

    • Ms. Pants

      Leaf chewing aside, I makes me giggle that you say “bodega” to describe convenience stores in Austin. People in the south would probably ask you what the hell you were talking about if you weren’t at sxsw.

    • Miss C

      Call me what you will, try chewing them and then opening your heart chakra – of course, if you’re not into that and prefer to snark, that was exactly where I was at for three whole weeks in Peru getting offered them!

      I only caught an “a-ha” moment on the last 2 days… boy am I gald I did.

      And boy, does it make me hate the global cocaine trade even more, for bastardising and defiling this plant.

      @D.A. – where’s your references on that please?

      You do know the coca plant is sacred, and… well, dunno where to start really.

      Next you’ll be saying slaves built the pyramids…

    • Miss C

      Okay – I just re-read this:

      “he had obtained some raw coca leaves, which were just as good as–nay, better than–cocaine”


      “cocaine sulphate – pasta, basuco, basa, pitillo, paste. This is the low-grade stuff that reaches the urban slums of South America. The sulphate is the intermediate stage between the coca leaf and the finished cocaine hydrochloride crystal. Coca leaves are stripped from the plant. They are put into plastic pit with a solution of water and dilute sulphuric acid. A bare-footed man will climb into the pit; step on the mess; and shove it around with his hands. In South America, coca paste in commonly mixed with tocacco and smoked.

      cocaine hydrochloride – an odourless, white crystalline powder. It has a bitter, numbing taste. Cocaine hydrochloride is a stable, hydrophilic salt. Thus it can be snorted and absorbed through the nasal mucosa. Absorption at around 20-30% is still relatively poor. It is limited by the drug’s tendency to cause vasoconstriction. Making cocaine hydrochloride is quite complicated. The pasta is first washed in kerosene. It is then chilled. The kerosene is removed. Gas crystals of crude cocaine are left at the bottom of the tank. Typically, the crystals are dissolved in methyl alcohol. They are then recrystallised and dissolved once more in sulphuric acid. Further washing, oxidation and separation procedures involve potassium permanganate, benzole, and sodium carbonate.”

      Whoever said that to you was like the idiots that sell ayahuasca as a “trip” and don’t get me wrong, I’ve not been near an entheogen for over 10 years, but whoever told you this was whoring out a continent’s sacred herbal beliefs to score kudos.

      If I met this person in the streets, I would slap their bratty little faces.

      • Jamie Peck

        Funny you should mention that. The guy said he had ayahuasca, too.

    • Jenny

      It is used by Peruvians to combat symptoms related to the high altitude. It does work. And gives you a little kick. Make tea with them.
      Anyone who falls for that nonsense that you did is clearly already impaired or plain stupid.

      • MR

        Yeah over 25 years ago, I was heading to Cuzco traveling along the Altiplano, and was having trouble breathing I’d say at above 13,000 feet. An old Quechua woman saw I was struggling and gave me some tea. I was fine right after. She didn’t speak a word of Spanish.

    • KG

      Did you per chance have on one of those damned hipster headdresses? ….

    • jen

      Oh, to be in my twenties again…

      You’ve succeeded in making me nostalgic for the days when I would pop anything anyone ever gave me into my mouth in the hopes of getting high and having a fun new adventure.

      • jen

        Heh… just remembered, that’s how I met my husband.

        Fun times.

    • Kacie

      Oh my god, this is hysterical. Sorry. God, I wish I was at SXSW.

    • Tania

      Are you sure the stomach upset wasn’t caused by swallowing baking soda? I mean, everyone knows what happens when you mix vinegar and baking soda, and your stomach acid is stronger than vinegar.

      Maybe you had a science fair volcano in your stomach that distracted you from any high?

    • Muhammad

      You are such a <unt. How f-kin pretentious you are

    • Forbidden Fruit

      I used to blame coca leaves for hurting my stomach too, until I tried them without baking soda.