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Does Coca-Cola contain cocaine

Tweet: Coco-Cola contained Coca (cocaine) from 1885 to 1903, today the company uses a ‘secret’ ingredient to keep it product addictive.

Verdict: Partly true

By Fatima Al Mulla
Zayed University Communication Student

Injustice Facts posted the following tweet on Feb. 23, 2012. The statement can be divided into three parts.

The first part mentions that the Coca-Cola Company used the drug cocaine as part of its product’s ingredients from the years 1885-1903.

According to Mike Flanagan, in his article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinal newspaper, John Styth Pemberton, a 53-year-old pharmacist from Atlanta, created Coca-Cola in 1885. He wanted to compete with other pharmacy products that “offered little if any relief, and they all contained cocaine.”

The predecessor of Coca-Cola was called French Wine Cola, a nerve and tonic stimulant. Six months later in 1886, Coca-Cola, the “Real Thing,” was created after Pemberton took out it’s alcoholic content.

The name Coca-Cola is derived from two separate main ingredients. The word Coca comes from the coca (cocaine) extract, and cola from the African Kola nut extract that is extremely effective for hangovers, as J.C. Louis and Harvey Yazijian wrote in their book The Cola Wars.

Flanagan said that, even after Pemberton passed in 1888 and Asa Griggs Candler took over Coca-Cola, cocaine remained a vital ingredient, according to Louis and Yazijian, despite the fact that he was a religious man.

In 1903, however, cocaine was permanently removed from the Coca-Cola product seeing as the public began to object to its prominence. Coca-Cola containing cocaine became a very controversial matter, as opposed to the drug being available for purchase over counters in the “era of glamorized narcotics” or late 1880’s.

The public was constantly worrying that they would get addicted to the cocaine in the drink and Coca-Cola was in danger of getting banned. In response, Candler wrote in 1901 that “the quantity of the cocaine (in the mix) is so small that it would be simply impossible for anyone to form the cocaine habit from drinking Coca-Cola,” according to Flanagan.

The second part of the statement in the tweet states “today the company uses a ‘secret’ ingredient.”

In 1988, Clifford D. May published an article “’Surprise’ Ingredient in Coca-Cola” in the San Francisco Chronicle in which he says that the ingredients that give Coca-Cola their unique flavor is locked up in a bank vault and can only be accessed by a few executives.

Flanagan also said that less than 10 people know what’s in the secret mixture “Merchandise 7X” which gives Coca-Cola its flavor and covers up the taste of the coca leaf and the African kola nut.

The world’s most popular soft drink that used to contain cocaine now only uses a nonnarcotic extract from coca and the leftover cocaine is then sold to pharmaceutical companies, according to May. The cocaine is purified and used by doctors and local anesthetics – but that is no secret.

In May’s article, a telephone interview with Randy Donaldson, a spokesperson for the Coca-Cola company in its Atlanta headquarters, stated that regulatory authorities have a tight control over not using cocaine in the mixture, only ingredients from the coca leaf – further verifying that Coca-Cola no longer uses cocaine.

Like Damon Frith said in his article, Coca-Cola is one of the many brands that have kept their ingredients a secret for decades. Whether it is still a secret or not depends on how we interpret the word kept.

Three credible websites speak on the matter of Coca-Cola’s secret ingredients: The Telegraph, Time News Feed – a partner of CNN – and a website copyrighted by The Huffington Post.

These websites all mention similar facts claiming that “This American Life” has discovered the list of ingredients in a photograph of a newspaper article. In the February 1979 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the photo showed the hands of a person holding up a book that was open to the page with the Coca-Cola ingredients in handwriting.

Dean Praetorious of The Huffington Post said that Ira Glass wrote in This American Life that the book in the picture was of an old recipe book which was handwritten by a pharmacist years ago and that the book was passed down by pharmacists as the years went by.

Glass is very certain that the recipe is either the original by Pemberton, or a version made before or after the product was in the market. He believes this is true because the recipe was found in a friend’s notebook in a page entitled “Coca-Cola recipe improved” as well as found in Pemberton’s notebook in the Coca-Cola archives.

Either way, Merchandise 7X (the secret ingredient) makes up only 1 percent of the soft drinks total formula yet still gives Coca-Cola it’s one of a kind flavor, according to The Telegraph.

The third and last part of the statement claims that Coca-Cola is addictive, or that the secret ingredient causes the drink to be addictive.

Coca-Cola, like any other soft drink, is unhealthy in its self due to high amounts of calories, sugar and other ingredients. Naturally, any over intake a particular substance can cause health problems but with addiction, it is difficult to verify.

Caffeine is one of the ingredients used in Coca-Cola and one of its properties is that it stimulates the body’s central nervous system, as posted on Medline Plus.

Medicine Net sates that too much caffeine can lead to a form of caffeine addiction yet not as harmful or intense as drug addiction. People might feel dependant on it that is when it becomes dangerous to overdo the amount of caffeine intake. The effects on children and adolescents can vary.

Focusing on only one of the ingredients of Coca-Cola shows exactly how difficult it is to rate a product as addictive. Every case is different and so we can’t assume a product addictive without it clearly being so, or rather, medically proven.

Our verdict:

We have come to the conclusion that the statement is partly true taking into consideration the following factors:

Coca Cola didn’t exist until 1886. But it did contain cocaine until 1903.

The formula can’t be considered a “secret” if the word is out, although some would debate whether it’s a secret or not.

Generally speaking, Coca-Cola is not known to have traditionally considered addictive qualities.


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