Carbonation. Sugar. Color. Caffeine.

What isn’t to love about Coca-Cola®?

It sure beats Pepsi® — it is the classic after all. The two soda powerhouses have been battling it out for market share for over a century now. The saga started all the way back in 1886 when John S. Pemberton made the original recipe of Coca-Cola.

His recipe included ingredients like coca extract, coco, caffeine, sugar water, lime juice, vanilla, caramel, and more. But, one of these things is not like the others. If you are doing a double take on the ingredients and “coca extract” catches your eye, it is with good reason.

Coca leaves are filled with all sorts of unique compounds and oils, one of which is cocaine, an alkaloid with addictive properties.

Making A Morphine Alternative For The Times

When John S. Pemberton made the original recipe of Coke it is said to have been made in an attempt to compete with a drink known as Vin Mariani. It turns out Pemberton was struggling with an addiction to morphine at the time, and he was also trying to find an alternative.

Not that his goal was altogether altruistic. Pemberton was a doctor who served in the Civil War, and he saw the effects of Vin Mariani — and the sales. Vin Mariani was not your average Maid Marian of a drink itself. It was prepared by mixing coca and wine.

Biologically, the body does some interesting things when trying to process coca and alcohol. It makes a special type of chemical that is touted to give off more euphoric effects than when either substance is used alone. This revelation was shared with the public when famous figures like author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Grand Rabbi of France, Zadoc Kahn,  lauded the drink. Rumor has it even the Pope at the time always kept some Vin Mariani on his person!

Pemberton took this as his cue to make something better. His first iteration of the drink was called Pemberton’s French Wine and Coca. The drink began to gain traction in the U.S., but there were some major changes looming on the horizon.

Cue The Coke Of The Future

Prohibition was enacted during the roaring 20s and 30s for the United States at large, but it turned out Georgia was a few steps ahead of the rest of the country. The Georgia county where Pemberton lived and sold his products had a prohibition introduced in the 1880s. This meant Pemberton’s first version of Coke was illegal because of the alcohol!

At that time in history, coca was still slipping under the radar of most regulatory agencies and governments around the world. It simply wasn’t considered a dangerous substance at the time. The changing legality of alcohol led Pemberton to make the very first version of Coca-Cola featuring sugar water instead of wine.

By 1899 you could find a Coca-Cola bottle in the hands of every southern intellectual. The jump to producing the soda in bottles was massive because it made the drink available to people of color who were not allowed to drink at the local soda fountains due to racism and segregation.

This mass accessibility led to a public health crisis as more and more community members ended up addicted to cocaine from their Coca-Cola habits. The company tried to address its role in this by removing the coca from Coca-Cola in 1903, 11 years before the United States moved to make cocaine an illegal substance.

Coca Cola Today

The removal of coca from Coca-Cola was not long-lived. In 1929, there was a discovery of a new extraction method that allowed the soft drink super company to remove the cocaine-esque chemical (ecgonine alkaloid) from the drink. So, today Coca-Cola actually still features flavors from coca leaves.

This is interesting because this means that today the Coca-Cola company has to be getting their coca from somewhere, and it also has to be processed. Actually, it turns out they transport hundreds of thousands of kilograms of coca leaves each year. A company that makes the special extract for flavor in Coca-Cola has reported that in 2003 they had enough coca on hand to make more than $200 million worth of cocaine that ended up in America’s favorite soft drink instead.

Cocaine, Coca-Cola, And Caffeine Culture

We know now that Dr. Pemberton is responsible for the original recipe of Coke and that by 1903 the company was significantly larger and working to remove all traces of cocaine from its drink. It’s important to ask, however, what impact the inclusion of a substance like cocaine in a widely available soft drink had on the people who drank it.

As early as 1881, people were becoming increasingly outspoken about the impacts drinks like Coca-Cola had on their health. Interestingly enough, most of these critics were more upset about the alcohol and its impacts on health than anything else in the soda. The removal of the alcohol is actually where the term “soft drink” came from, since it was no longer a drink with “hard alcohol” in it.

The number of cocaine-esque chemicals in Coca-Cola were always small and so the public outcry for health and safety was never directed at that ingredient when it came to the drink. Once the government made cocaine illegal and banned the use of coca leaves, the trouble that was wrought from the inclusion of coca in soft drinks was simply lost in the shuffle. So, while we don’t actually know the impact that Coca-Cola had in regard to its inclusion of cocaine, we do know it’s impacted health and culture even since its coca cutout.

Sodas do have a lot of other ingredients that we are still studying and learning more about. One of the most important — and arguably the tastiest — ingredients in soda is sugar. When it comes to public health, one of the biggest concerns for our country is obesity, and an excess of sugary drinks does not constitute health and nutritious food for the body.

Not to mention that caffeine has some big implications too. Studies have shown all sorts of things about the effects of caffeine in animals and humans. It turns out the Coca-Cola company was not content to leave the science to outside sources. They found a variety of ways to influence public perception and studies on both sugar and caffeine.

Misuse And Addiction

Although there are limited studies about the effects of Coca-Cola’s added coca extract on consumers, cocaine addiction is very real. Trying to quit cocaine by yourself can be difficult — and even dangerous.

Common symptoms of cocaine use and addiction include

  • Headaches
  • High blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Chills
  • Sweating
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Damage to the nasal cavity
  • Depression
  • Inability to quit or cut back on use, even when desired
  • Losing interest in typical activities and interests
  • Neglecting personal or professional duties
  • Ensuring there’s always a stockpile of cocaine available

Get Help

Here at Vertava Health, we are dedicated to helping all our patients live out their best future. We achieve this goal by supporting each of our patients with an individualized and comprehensive treatment plan at all levels of care. Our licensed clinicians and doctors take each individual’s needs into consideration when creating personalized treatment plans. Find your best future today with Vertava Health. Contact us at (615) 208-2941 to start your healing journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

When did Coca-Cola have cocaine in it?

Before 1929, the year Coca-Cola went completely cocaine-free, trace amounts could be found. However, even as early as the late 1800s, there was some pushback by the public about the amount of cocaine in the drink, causing the company to respond by cutting back the amount.

When did they stop putting cocaine in Coca-Cola?

The amount of cocaine found in the drink was already severely limited by 1902 and by 1929, the drink was completely absent of cocaine.

How much cocaine was in Coca-Cola?

It is difficult to estimate exactly, because the amount of cocaine in the drink changed over time. Into the 1900s, the amount of cocaine was barely a trace. In 1902, Coca-Cola reportedly contained 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of syrup.

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