Drug War

Guess Which Stimulant in Coca-Cola Was Controversial a Century Ago


In an interesting New York Times piece, Murray Carpenter describes a 1911 case that anticipated the recent fuss over caffeine in energy drinks: The USDA's Bureau of Chemistry, predecessor to the Food and Drug Administration, sued the Coca-Cola Company, arguing that its famous soft drink was "adulterated" because it contained caffeine. Back then, Carpenter writes, Coca-Cola "contained as much caffeine as a modern Red Bull—80 milligrams per serving." He does not mention that it also contained another stimulant: cocaine, which was not completely removed until 1929, when the company began using decocainized coca leaf extract in its recipe. Perhaps the government's focus on caffeine can be explained by the relative doses of the two drugs, both of which were legal at the time. But it may also have been due to a bias against "artificial" ingredients: The cocaine was a natural constituent of coca leaf, whereas the caffeine was added in isolated form.

A similar bias seems to motivate critics of energy drinks such as Red Bull and Rockstar, which contain twice as much caffeine per ounce as modern-day Coca-Cola (which is down to 35 mg per 12-ounce serving) but about half as much as drip coffee. "How much caffeine is too much?" Carpenter asks toward the end of his article. "Is it different when added to soft drinks than as a natural constituent of coffee?" It is different in terms of the reaction it elicits from caffeine alarmists, but there does not seem to be any rational basis for this distinction.


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  1. I think the drug warriors in government should be waterboarded with pre-1929 Coke.

    1. That’s too good for them. New Coke.

      1. You monster! Next you’ll be suggesting RC Cola!

        1. Wouldn’t Jolt cola be the most appropriate?

          1. Was it an option then? I can’t remember when it came out.

            1. That was ’85 I think.

            2. Came out in 1985. I thought he wanted the current crop of nannyist assholes waterboarded.

              Go back to pre-1914 (Harrison Act), and you could get cocaine-laced drinks in almost any corner drug store soda fountain.

              1. I’m surprised no one markets Coke with cocaine. Coke Classic?

                1. I agree – we could call it original old timers classic cocaine coke. We could bring back that commercia with all the youngins signing “I’d like to buy the world a coke…” except of course they would all be a lot more frenetic…

              2. Go back to pre-1914 (Harrison Act), and you could get cocaine-laced drinks in almost any corner drug store soda fountain.

                Don’t forget the laudanum.

                1. Get a little of both.

        2. You take that back. RC is at the zenith of the cola universe.

        3. nothing wrong with RC Cola. Now hold one while I fish my moon pie out of my overalls….

          1. Mmmmm…Moon Pie.

      2. Crystal Pepsi — it’s the only way to be sure.

    2. You’re all wrong. Waterboard ’em with Moxie!

      1. Don’t waste the good stuff! Loves my Moxie!

        1. THe best brown soda there is.

    3. Water boarding with grey water would be environmentally friendly.

  2. Caffeine has been controversial for a while now.

    The lyric I remember (it’s Bach’s Coffee Cantata) is “let me have my coffee, father, let me have it strong.”

    1. K…A…F…F…E…E
      Kaffee ist nicht fur mich

  3. When New Coke was all that was available, I temporarily switched to RC, which, at the time, was superior to Pepsi. Pepsi, the drink of statists.

    1. Sorry, this is in response to omg. Damned nested threaded abominable heretical comments.

  4. My new shipment of coca tea came yesterday. In unrelated news, my kitchen is so fucking clean now.

    1. Linky?

      1. Never mind. I was looking in the wrong place.

        1. Here, my good chum. They even shipped it with some coca cookies. Invigorating.

          1. Have you tried the matcha style, or just the tea bags?

            1. Just the bags. I’m kind of leery about experimenting, because maybe the other stuff has been decocainized. That would be a disaster.

            2. Their product description suggests that it’s the good stuff. “This product is a great antidepressant.” You don’t say.

              Coca Flour, Powdered Coca Tea
              This product is a great antidepressant. You can brew it the same way you brew coffee or use a espresso machine for a strong organic energy shot. Use one teaspoon mixed on 12 oz of juice before workout for a superior performance and to enhance your energy naturally without withdraw symptoms, no shakiness, no jitters!. A very important study conducted by Harvard University found that the coca leaf has a large amount of nutrients, rather than other foods known as very strong. Every 100 grams of coca leaf contain: Calcium 1749 (mg), Phosphor 637 (mg) Vitamin A 10000 (IU) In Peru using flour coca is the expansion for the treatment of various diseases, especially osteoporosis, arthritis, gastritis, etc. Two varities: Bolivian or Huanuco coca and Truxillo or Peruvian coca

              1. My order has been sent…

  5. This also explains why everyone dances so fast in old-timey movies…

  6. But we have to regulate caffeinated soft drinks FOR THE CHILDREN!

    Red Bull and Rock Star are gateway drugs, and many users go on to harder drugs like beer and marihuana.

    They are also laden with sugar and lead to the obesity crisis.

    War on Drugs. War on Obesity. They’re FOR THE CHILDREN.

    You damn libertarians just don’t care about children. The nanny state loves the children, no matter how old they are.

    1. I love the American people like I love my five kids: Malia, Sasha, Afghanistan War, Iraq War, and Libyan War.

      1. Admittedly, two of them are adopted, but I love them just the same.

  7. “it also contained another stimulant: cocaine, which was not completely removed until 1929”

    The same year as the stock market crash. Coincidence?

    1. I THINK NOT

  8. You want to talk about unintended consequences? Coke is the greatest one of all. First, we make them cut down on the caffeine, then remove the cocaine, then the real sugar. Eventually it’s just a corn-syrup glop, which apparently really creates weight problems that natural sugar & caffeine wouldn’t have resulted in (or not nearly as much, at any rate).

    So now, due to a series of laws, we have a drink that 1) doesn’t taste as good, and 2) makes you fat in a way it’s original formulation would never have. And now we’re talking about MORE LAWS to control the fatness that is a result of ALL THE PREVIOUS LAWS.

    This is why I only drink expensive coke shipped up from Mexico (thankfully being in Texas I have ready access to such in grocery stores). Ain’t America grand?

    1. HFCS and sugar are identical as far as your metabolism is concerned. Both are poison.

      1. Poison has never tasted so good.

      2. I’d say the jury is still out on whether HFCS is any worse for you than sugar. A quick google check shows that there’s still quite a bit of controversy on the subject. The AMA & FDA say it’s fine, but I’m not sure I trust them to only give completely unbiased correct advice, since they have a long history of…well, let’s not say “lying”, so much as just “getting shit wrong”.

        1. Well, even if HFCS is worse for you than sugar, sugar is in fact metabolic poison. So there’s that. But, if you’re not fucked up (i.e. fat and looking 15 years older than you really are) then probably…half a 12oz coke a day is of no consequence. HFCS or no.

          1. sugar is in fact metabolic poison

            Well, no, it is the fuel that grains (you know, the main source of calories for humans for thousands of years) are broken down into in the digestive tract.

            Your statement makes about as much sense as calling carbon dioxide (you know, the plant equivalent of oxygen) “pollution”.

            1. Yup. Eat less grain.

              1. I’d say the jury is also still out on whether John Edward can really talk to dead people, because a quick Google check shows a lot of controversy on that topic too.

                Well, I would say that if I tried to determine the truth by simply checking whether something gets Google hits, but that’s not the standard I adhere to.

                1. It wasn’t based solely on google hits you smarmy ass, it was based on some scientists disagreeing with other scientists, which I found when I checked google. I use the internet to search for information…in order to do so, I have to use a search engine, in this case I just mentioned specifically that I used google.

                  It depends largely on which scientists you choose to believe.

                  1. There is at least one Nobel prize-winner who maintains (or at least maintained for a long time) that AIDS is not caused by a virus (think he thought it had something to do with gay guys doing too many poppers or something.) His Nobel was for developing a procedure that is an important tool in diagnosing AIDS, so it is not as if he is in an entirely unrelated field.

                    The thing is that cane sugar and HFCS are not very different. I don’t think anyone has yet suggested a (plausible) mechanism by which HFCS could be more than marginally worse for you than cane sugar.

    2. ” expensive coke shipped up from Mexico”

      It’s available in Minneapolis all over town. And it isn’t expensive if you buy it at Cub Foods.

      1. Expensive compared to regular coke. A bottle of the good stuff here runs about $1, compared to a 12-pack of cans for $4.

      2. And sorry meant to add: I have no earthly idea what Cub Foods is.

        1. I used to shop there. Don’t know what it’s like now, but it was a pretty good grocery store 15-20 years ago. Nice international section.

          1. Never even heard of it; maybe it’s only in the north?

            1. I think so. I shopped there in Minneapolis and Columbus during my Midwestern Exile Phase. Don’t recall it in Chicago, but I lived in the city and may have missed it.

            2. By the way, Fresh Market has Mexican Coke.

          2. Cub Fods can goods are rusty and they restamp later expiration dates on unsold meat.

            1. I like Publix plenty, and that’s where we get most of our groceries.

              1. Publix is not a bad chain of stores at all. You’ll certainly do no better in the (other) Bay area. One thing that impressed me about Publix is the quality of their store brand canned whole tomatoes. They’re as good as or better than many premium brands (though a bit salty) and very cheap.

                I do prefer some of the chains in the NE to Publix. First off, Publix prefers to have more smaller stores than fewer larger ones, which means a smaller selection. They also don’t have to cater to an Italian-American population in the way that stores in the NE do. Many (maybe most) Publix locations don’t even sell olives, outside of a can or a jar, and that is a black mark in my book.

                But, all things considered, Publix tends to be the best option in its locale. Food Lion often has better deals on meat, but the meat is questionable. As for Wynn-Dixie… well, the less said about Wynn-Dixie the better. Fresh market is good for a few things but I think that people who do most of their shopping there have more money than sense.

                Anyway, Wapner is almost on, gotta go.

            2. So do You!

    3. “Eventually it’s just a corn-syrup glop, which apparently really creates weight problems that natural sugar & caffeine wouldn’t have resulted in”

      Do you know what else doesn’t cause weight problems?


    4. So, you’re admitting openly to being a Coke smuggler?

  9. 1. Mix one 16 oz bottle of Coca-Cola imported from Mexico with 1/16th gram of cocaine.
    2. Replace cap and wait till dissolved.
    3. Drink.
    4. Party like it’s 1899.

    1. That’s right, Latin American Coca-Cola still uses real sugar.

      I wonder what ingredients are in Columbian Coca-Cola?

      1. It’s “Colombian” and they use sugar and other natural ingredients.

    2. Eh, not really.

      You’d have to use coca extract (not cocaine), lime juice instead of citric acid, and molasses instead of “caramel coloring.”

      The original coke syrup recipe involved basically:

      lime juice
      cola nut extract
      coca leaf extract

  10. Attention, anti-caffeine aholes:

    If I wanted to be a Mormon I’d buy some magic underwear.


    1. Attention ignorant pricks:

      The Mormon religion doesn’t preach against caffeine.

      Take your religion bashing comments elsewhere. (Come on, “magic underwear”? Please, grow up.)


      1. “The Mormon religion doesn’t preach against caffeine.”

        Oh, right. It’s “hot drinks” or some such shit. Which makes even less sense, particularly when hot drinks besides coffee and tea are allowed.

        If you are a Mormon, or just don’t like people saying not nice things about them, you are just going to have to get used to it. In a world full of silly religions, Mormonism is a particularly silly religion.

        1. Golden plates!!!! So God is too stupid to use a printing press?

  11. Do you know what else had cocaine in it?


    We need to be protected from those damned snake oil salesmen, don’t ya know???

  12. Wouldn’t that make the soda fizz like crazy when you add all those nucleation points? Seems like the better way would be to dissolve the powder in a small amount of water first. The best way would be to add it to the syrup before carbonation.

  13. Speaking of, I went to World of Coke like two weeks ago and someone in the first room (with all the memorabilia, and the tour guide for a few mins) asked about it. She claimed that it was never part of the official formula, but that customers getting it at drugstores could ask to have it added.

    Coke is whitewashing their history.

    1. Speedballs at the soda fountain would be awesome. I’d order a laudanum Coke with extra cocaine. Hold the ice, I want the glass FULL.

      1. What you would really want is a shot of alcohol in your fountain drink. Or six.

        (Powder) cocaine is actually a pretty tame drug. Its effects are subtle, and disproportionately expensive.

        But cocaine, in the presence of ethanol, undergoes a transesterification which produces a new and much more psychoactive drug: Cocaethylene.

        This chemistry is not very well understood, explicitly, by most coke users. But it might help explain why so many people only do coke when they drink- any drug-addled idiot knows that coke is a far better euphoric when you are drunk.

        Unfortunately Cocaethylene is significantly more toxic than cocaine. But hey, you get what you pay for.

    2. Well, I suppose she might be technically correct (depending on how the question was asked). Cocaine wasn’t part of the formula, but coca extract containing cocaine was.

  14. but there does not seem to be any rational basis for this distinction.

    Ha, I see what you did there. What were you expecting – a compelling state interest?

  15. From what I understand there was no cocaine in Coca Cola.

    There was coca extract, but you can get that now in Red Bull Cola.

  16. If correlation equals causation can I blame the decrease in caffeine for the obesity problem. My 80+ year old grandpa told me you could use Coke to clean bugs off the windshield back in the day.

  17. I actually do make a distinction between the herbal form of caffeine and the pure chemical form — I much prefer the former. To me it’s similar to smoking marijuana versus those JWH artificial cannabinoids, or even pure synthetic THC. Something about encountering the chemical in its natural form, surrounded by the myriad other chemicals alongside which it has naturally evolved, is consistently a more pleasurable experience.

    Of course, that says absolutely nothing about how these distinctions should (or should not!) be handled from a policy perspective. Just my two drug intake cents.

    1. To me it’s similar to smoking marijuana versus those JWH artificial cannabinoids, or even pure synthetic THC.

      This is a special case. THC has a number of isomers that occur in different proportions in marijuana. The flowers of the plant also contain many other compounds that might be psychoactive on their own or that might not be by themselves, but that might alter the effect of THC. It is widely believed that cannabidiol, for instance, has a synergistic effect with THC.

      Chemicals are chemicals- their origin (i.e. in a lab, versus “naturally derived”) is not very significant. But, as you suggest, THC brewed in a lab is not likely to be accompanied by all of the compounds it is when you smoke the sinsemilla.

      This is a special case because the chemistry of marijuana is so complex. I am inclined to think that this is much less the case for coca.

      1. Nitpicking, but actually from what I’ve read, CBD has an suppressing effect on THC, not synergistic. But yes — when you smoke pot, you’re dosing yourself with a lot more than just THC, which was basically my point.

        And I haven’t read much on either caffeine or cocaine, but my guess is that there’s a similar plethora of subtly active ingredients contained in both coffee beans and coca leaves. There aren’t many natural plants out there that don’t have a complex chemistry.

        1. Hmm, the squirrels just ate my response, and it is too late for me to type it out again.

          But the short version is that 1) I think the interaction between cannabidiol and THC is more complicated than you make it out to be and 2) I doubt that coffee beans are as chemically complex as marijuana, and I know that people are generally interested only in the cocaine from coca.

          I should add that I think how you ingest a drug has a lot to do with your experience. Set, setting, etc. I love my morning coffee, but if it weren;t available I wouldn’t start taking caffeine pills.

          1. There’s plenty of easily available info on CBD:


            “It may decrease the rate of clearance of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from the body, perhaps by interfering with the metabolism of THC in the liver.”

            The article also explains that CBD is an indirect antagonist of cannabinoid agonists (like THC), and that it has no affinity for either the CB1 or CB2 receptors. CBD is an important chemical to be sure, but there is no evidence of a synergistic psychoactive effect when combined with THC. In fact, all evidence points in the opposite direction.

            Agreed with the point about set and setting.

            1. I addressed this in the comment that got eaten, which was a bit longer. I’ve known a few people who independently assessed the effect of cannabidiol to THC ratio.

              The semi-empirical results point at both synergy and inhibition, and also point at a qualitatively different experience. According to this theory more cannabidiol leads to a “murkier” but longer high.

              This matches well with my experience, but I am open to the idea that there is some sort of spurious correlation.

              1. Yeah, the idea of a different “feel” certainly makes sense — and even if we knew the mechanisms perfectly, the idea of being “more high” or “less high” is ultimately subjective no matter what chemical(s) we’re discussing. I guess, like you’re saying, I thought that labeling the interaction between THC and CBD as strictly “synergistic” was an oversimplification.

            2. It should also be noted that since we have no idea why THC has the effects it does, it is really presumptuous to start throwing around detailed theories that presume such knowledge.

  18. What the hell? Cocaine can’t be absorbed orally (not much anyway). Only via mucosa or inhalation, or IV I guess.

    1. I dunno, a cup of coca tea can be a nice little pick-me-up for sure.

  19. extract in its recipe. Perhaps the government’s focus on caffeine can be explained

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