Religious challenge Pope Francis drinks Coca leaves, the main ingredient in Cocaine

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

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Pope Francis, kicked off his tour of Bolivia by drinking a special brew made of coca leaves, used in producing 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, 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 spokeman 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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