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What’s the Real Story Behind the Popular Soft Drink Coca-Cola?

Ben Franske, Wiki Commons

Nothing could be more American than sitting down with your friends, in a restaurant or during the big game, and enjoying a great big glass of Coca-Cola, right? Coca-Cola means Santa Claus, family outings and summertime fun… in other words, pure Americana.

So, what does Coca-Cola have to do with America’s war on drugs?

Picture burly DEA agents intercepting loads of narcotics near our nation’s borders, or American paramilitary units scouring the jungles of Columbia for secret drug plantations. Every year, millions of US tax dollars are earmarked to combat the illegal drug trade, but ironically, this hasn’t always been the case.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, we’ll simply have to tell you. Once upon a time, cocaine was one of two “medicinal” ingredients used in Coca-Cola (the other being kola nuts).

Summi, Wiki Commons

This stimulating soft drink was first introduced to the American public in the mid-1850s by a hardworking druggist named John Pemberton. It was originally designed as an alternative to cocaine-laced wine, and marketed as a “nerve” tonic.

At the time, cocaine did not have much of a social stigma to it. Cocaine was readily and legally available, and sold on the street in packets that cost around 25 cents each. As the decades passed, laws and social norms changed, and cocaine was eventually phased out as an active ingredient. By the 1930s, the beverage was completely cocaine free.

And now the substance, regardless of your views, incites tremendous passions, siphons off enormous amounts of public and private funds, and claims numerous lives each year. All for something people used to buy from their local chemist with no more thought than buying a box of paper tissue. Oh, how the times have changed.


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