New Delhi: After striking a $44-billion deal to buy social media company Twitter, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk Thursday joked that he will buy Coca-Cola next and “put the cocaine back in” it.
The tweet has gone viral, like all his other posts, and both #CocaCola and #cocaine are now trending.
Despite all the health advisories against it, mainly because of its high sugar content, Coca-Cola has remained a popular non-alcoholic drink across the world. And though it is not the first time that cocaine has been linked to Coca-Cola, those who may not be aware of the history of the cola drink might be wondering what the connection is all about.
Did Coca-Cola Ever Have Cocaine In It?
The cola drink dates back to 1885, and it was invented by John Pemberton, a pharmacist from Atlanta in the US state of Georgia. It is said that Pemberton made the original formula in his backyard.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the drink was first marketed as a “patent medicine”, and that Pemberton described it as a “brain tonic and intellectual beverage”, claiming it cured headaches, upset stomach, and fatigue.
A detailed article on the institute’s website says Coca-Cola did, in fact, once contain cocaine, which was legal at the time, and also a common ingredient in medicines. People believed cocaine was safe if consumed in small amounts, it adds.
According to the article, Pemberton’s recipe contained cocaine in the form of coca leaf extract. That’s how Coca-Cola got its name, with the second part coming from the kola nut that contains another stimulant, caffeine.
By 1892, Atlanta pharmacist Asa Candler had purchased Coca-Cola from Pemberton, and created the Coca-Cola Company. Candler advertised Coke as a beverage, and made it available at lunch counters across the US.
The drink still contained a trace of cocaine, the institute claims.
After some Americans started to speak out against the use of addictive ingredients in ‘patent medicines’, many makers revamped the formulas of their drugs, according to the institute. The cocaine amount in Coca-Cola was also reduced over time, and the drink was made cocaine-free by 1929. It was the Prohibition Era in the US then. With alcohol declared illegal during the time, Coca-Cola, or Coke, soon became popular as an alternative “soft” drink.
The Coca-Cola that we consume today does not contain cocaine, NIDA assures.
How Is Coca-Cola Made?
The Coca-Cola formula has been kept a strict secret, but a little about its ingredients are known.
To this day, reports claim, Coca-Cola uses the coca leaves to make the drink. “…but there is no cocaine in it and it is all tightly overseen by regulatory authorities”, a Coke executive told The New York Times in 1988.
Coca leaves, however, are illegal in the US. The company uses them after they have been “de-cocainized” by a New Jersey firm, the Stepan Chemical Company, Scientific American says in an article.
The cocaine that was used in Coca-Cola was more specifically ‘ecgonine’, a precursor to cocaine and derived from the coca plant extract, according to fact-checking website Snopes.com. After a Facebook post claimed in 2021 that the “first bottle of Coca-Cola from 1894 contained around 3.5 grams of cocaine”, a Snopes article said there was 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of syrup by 1902, before the de-cocainization process was perfected and the drink was made completely cocaine-free.
What Coca-Cola Has Said About Cocaine Use In Drink
The Coca-Cola Company had always, officially, denied the presence of cocaine in its drinks, whether in the past or at present, though historical evidence suggests that the original product did contain the substance.
In his book, ‘For God, Country and Coca-Cola’, author Mark Pendergrast says the entire subject was a “delicate public relations problem” for the company, and hence John Candler, grandson of Asa G. Candler, decided to deny the presence of cocaine in the drink ever.
“If the company responded to attacks by telling the truth, they would be admitting that the drink did once have cocaine in it. The implication would be that they had removed it because it was harmful, which might even open the door to lawsuits. Besides, it was unthinkable to admit that Coca-Cola had ever been anything but pure and wholesome,” Pendergrast wrote, as quoted in a USA Today article.
The 1988 NYT article cited above quoted company spokesmen as saying the original recipe did include cocaine but the substance was eliminated from the recipe later.
The company website still maintains “Coca-Cola does not contain cocaine or any other harmful substance, and cocaine has never been an added ingredient in Coca‑Cola”.