I should have known better. I'm the tea guru, right?
Last week, we had unexpected Couchsurfers stop by the house. Javier, Noemi, Michal and Jan. From Argentina, Quebec, Poland and Belgium, respectively. They spent the night. We cooked curry and chapatis together and stayed up really late talking. So by Friday night, when it was time to go out in celebration of Michal's 30th birthday, I was exhausted.
The Schedule Went As Follows
10pm: "I'll brew up some coca leaf tea," suggests Michal. "That'll wake us up!" And so he did. A pot full of strong, deep green and overly sweetened stuff that made my tongue cramp and stomach lurch on first sip.
But I was tired, and this is Argentina. The clubs don't even bother opening until 1am. So, when the first cup didn't do much of anything, I went for cup number two. My lips and gums were a'tingling as we approached Balcarce Street.
Midnight: Then, what's a birthday celebration without a toast? Of course, when the waitress at Rana Burger tells you there's a two for one promotion on liter bottles of Quilmes, you don't think to say no.
4am: We're neck deep in thump, thumping reggaeton at Club XX1. It feels like my head is going to pop off, but still, we danced.
8am. Lila is awake and wanting breakfast. I get up, feeling fine and make her french toast. I'm trying to use up as much food as possible in the house before we move later this month, and we have a lot of beans, peas, lentils sitting around. I decide to make soup.
10am: "I'm not feeling so good," I tell Noah who is still sleeping. "Do you mind hanging out with Lila for a bit while I lie down." I remind him of the soup. It should be ready in time for lunch.
A Cup of Water, A Wet Towel & Hair Band
The following 48 hours mash into one long, painful blur. All I remember with extreme clarity is feeling sicker than I've ever felt in my life. My head pounded. I was sure the slightest movement would cause the top of my head to burst right off. My stomach gyrated as if trying to muscle its way back to the dance floor.
My bare necessities? A cup of water that Noah graciously refilled for me throughout the day. A wet towel to put on my forehead and a hair band to grab quickly before I ran back to the toilet to vomit again. I couldn't even keep water down, but needed something in my stomach. The worst part was the sickly, sweet aroma of coca seeping from my pores. The smell alone sent me retching back to the bathroom.
I kept thinking of all those ayahuasca journeys in which people describe the most horrific reactions, expelling liquids and solids from every possible orifice. Yet they still claim their trip as the most overwhelmingly positive spiritual experiences of their lives.
Was it spiritual? No. Not really. Spiritual redemption was just a tiny carrot, a golden hope, some little way of trying to convince myself that all of this would ultimately be worth it.
By Monday morning, I was out of bed again and nibbling on dry toast having learned an important lesson. Never again will I treat coca leaf with such disrespect.
It Doesn't Do Much For Me
I hear this from many people. Perhaps that's because they are drinking the kind from tea bags or they don't drink enough. But we were using relatively fresh leaves which were steeped in hot water for a few hours.
Or maybe they are smart enough to listen to their body's when they say, enough, don't drink anymore.
I've often been able to determine that an herb -- tincture or tea -- was the right or wrong one to take based on my taste response. Do I like the flavor? Am I repulsed by it? That's often a good indication of what your body needs.
All the signs were there. My stomach had an uncomfortable reaction to the first sip, and I hated the taste. I stupidly ignored what my mouth, tongue and stomach told me.
Too Much Of A Good Thing Takes You In the Opposite Direction
Coca leaf is meant to stimulate your stomach. It's also a mild sedative. Thus, I had too much and found myself both painfully overstimulated while dreadfully sedated.
Herbs are all about finding balance. That's why I tend towards herbs like chamomile and red raspberry leaf that are dual modulators. They help bring you back to the center. These are also very gentle herbs and you'd be hard pressed to over do.
Coca leaf has much stronger properties. The alkaloid tropane can be poisonous in too high doses, and is the active constituent in cocaine (but only if highly treated. Coca leaf is not cocaine.)
Am I Warning You Not To Take Or Try Coca Leaf?
Lord, no. That would be like saying not to wear shoes because some idiot decided to wear her's without tying the laces and then fell when they got stuck in an escalator.
But use it with respect. If you have a bad headache or nausea. If you're suffering from altitude sickness or to perk you up if you are extremely tired but have no choice but to keep working, particularly physical work. Coca leaf can also be used to blunt symptoms of withdrawal. It's not meant as a casual pick me up before going out dancing and certainly shouldn't be mixed with alcohol or other substances, depressants or stimulants.
Learning By Trial & Error
I've always been my own guinea pig when experimenting with herbal medicines. Normally, I'm more cautious, take things more slowly. I test a little of an herbal preparation and see how I feel before downing more.
I should have known better. It's a mistake I'll never make again (probably.)
Photo Credit: A huge thank you to photographer, videographer and 3x Emmy winner JD Andrews of EarthXplorer for allowing me to use his coca leaf photo. He took it while on a recent trip to Peru where he drank and enjoyed coca tea without incident.