Can You Grow Coca Plants in the US?

Coca plants are cultivated as cash crops in parts of South America but is that possible in the US?

Well, not quite. In the United States, coca, just like cocaine, is classified as a Schedule II drug under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). In simpler terms, it’s illegal to be in possession of the plant unless you have express approval from the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Besides the legal limitations, the growth conditions aren’t exactly ideal, and going the greenhouse route is prohibitively expensive on a large scale. That’s why the soft drinks giant, Coca-Cola, just opts for imported leaves (more of that in a few).

For now, here’s a quick rundown on Schedule II drugs.

Schedule II Drugs

The DEA has a system in place that categorizes or schedules drugs and substances depending on the acceptable medical use and the potential to be abused or addictive.

In this case, Schedule II drugs are considered by the DEA to have a high potential for abuse which could lead to severe psychological and physical dependence or addiction.

That being said, these kinds of drugs have an accepted medical use, hence, the requirement for approval before use. And that’s one of the reasons Coca-Cola can keep making their fizzy drinks using coca leaf extract without having to grow the plants themselves.

Coca Plant Importation

It’s not even about not just planting. The soft drinks company doesn’t also handle the leaves. Instead, they depend on the Stepan Company Maywood plant to import, extract whatever they need from the coca leaves (cocaine-free), and sell it to them. This is the only company allowed to import coca leaves.

The cocaine extracted from the leaves, on the other hand, is sold to a drug manufacturer Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals.

In its early days, Coca-Cola actually included small amounts of cocaine in their drinks but gradually faced it out as more information about its addictive nature came out.

Manufacturing drugs (the good ones), producing cocaine, and making soft drinks aren’t the only uses of coca. For centuries, the locals in its native range have used the plant for lots of different purposes.

Coca Plant Uses

While the rest of the world sees cocaine when they hear about coca plants, parts of South America (Ecuador, Colombia, Argentina, Bolivia, and Peru) have a completely different view. To them, the plant serves more than providing the raw material for one of the most frowned-upon hard drugs – and it’s been that way for thousands of years.

Have a look at some of the different ways the coca plant is utilized.


This is the most widespread use of the coca leaves as it goes beyond local communities that have been growing the plant for ages. It’s like coffee – industrially produced, packaged in teabags, and sold in stores around town.

Just like coffee, it’s believed to provide an energy boost as well as mood improvement.

Traditional Medicine

Before modern medicine became a thing, the coca plant was used as a remedy for various health conditions. This use persists to this day and the effectiveness has even been supported by research in some cases.

For its blood-constricting capabilities, the leaves are pretty effective against bleeding while the seeds come in handy during nose bleeding.

It was also a priced anesthetic – that’s before the advent of more effective modern anesthetic – alleviating pain for childbirth, in case of broken bones, during skull operations, and any wounds in general.

Other conditions that required coca include:

  • Altitude sickness
  • Indigestion
  • Malaria
  • Asthma
  • Ulcers


Chewing is a large part of how the coca plant is consumed across its native range. Bags of the plant’s leaves being sold on the streets are a pretty common sight in some of the countries that grow it.

And the method of chewing (yes, there’s a way of doing it) has remained unchanged for thousands of years.

While you can chow down on the leaves just fine, locals usually add a bit of lime or bicarbonate soda which helps with the release of important components. And it’s not just about getting a mild high (not like cocaine, just to be clear).

The chewing act is highly regarded in some tribes serving religious or cultural purposes. For instance, the Tairona people of Colombia used to nibble on a few leaves before going into long prayers and meditation. The Kogi, Wiwa, and Arhuaco (also from Colombia), on the other hand, view coca consumption as a crossover to manhood, introduced to boys once they’re deemed ready for marriage.

Source of Nutrients

Both chewing and consuming coca leaves as tea have been proven to be nutritional. The plant has been proven to contain certain proteins and fiber, a slew of vitamins (B1, B2, C, and E), and essential minerals like phosphorus, calcium, and potassium.

Other Problems with Growing Coca in the US

So, what if there weren’t legal restrictions to growing coca plants in the US? I mean, you might want to take advantage of some of the medicinal and nutritional benefits above, right?

Well, there’s a new set of problems you’re going to deal encounter:

  • Seeds are hard to come by.
  • And even if you find any, they tend to have extremely low germination rates (apparently they have a 14-day shelf life and dropping them could mean their end).
  • It might be a bit hard to maintain the ideal conditions for healthy growth.

Final Thoughts

So, yeah – you can’t (or rather you shouldn’t) grow coca plants in the US. Thanks to their association with cocaine, the plants are classified as Schedule II drugs which basically means it’s totally illegal to possess any parts.

But even if this wasn’t the case, the delicate nature of the seeds and less-than-ideal conditions in the US will make the whole process of growing the plants a bit stressful.