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Was cocaine really used to make Coca Cola?

“Is it true that Coca Cola used to contain cocaine?”

Cocaine is an illegal stimulant that comes from the leaves of the coca plant. Coca leaves been used by the natives of South America as a part of their daily life for over a thousand years. They are chewed for their alerting effects and their ability to increase endurance, with the practice continuing to the present day.

Cocaine gained prominence in the 1800s and was made widely available in tonics used to treat a range of conditions, including morphine addiction and depression. One of these was to outlast all the others and remain with us to this day – Coca Cola.

In 1886, a pharmacist from Atlanta named Dr John Pemberton developed a syrup combined with carbonated water that was described in its advertising as “Delicious and Refreshing”. He named it Coca Cola. The name came from the drink’s two key ingredients – cocaine and caffeine (cocaine – coca leaves, caffeine – kola (or cola) nut – ‘Coca-Cola’). According to historical records the original recipe contained “5oz of coca leaf per gallon of syrup”.

It wasn’t until 1914 that severe restrictions were placed on all cocaine products but by that time the recipe for Coca Cola had already changed. Cocaine began to be removed from the drink at the beginning of the century and by 1904 the company only used ‘spent’ leaves, i.e., leftovers of the cocaine-extraction process with only trace levels of the drug present. By 1929 scientists were able to perfect the removal of all psychoactive elements from the coca-leaf extract.

First published: June 2021

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