There’s nothing quite like the sugary rush that accompanies a cold glass of Coca-Cola — but did you know that the aptly named Coke used to deliver an even bigger kick? Until 1903, the world-famous soft drink contained a significant dose of cocaine.
While the Coca-Cola Company officially denies the presence of cocaine in any of its products — past or present — historical evidence suggests that the original Coca-Cola did, in fact, contain cocaine.
Coca-Cola was first created in 1886 by Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton, who modeled his beverage after a then-popular French refreshment, coca wine, made by mixing coca-leaf extract with Bordeaux wine. To avoid liquor regulations, Pemberton chose to mix his coca-leaf extract with sugar syrup instead of wine. He also added kola-nut extract, lending Coca-Cola the second half of its name, as well as an extra jolt of caffeine.
While cocaine-infused beverages may seem far-fetched to modern readers, these drinks were quite common in the late 19th century. Cocaine was not made illegal in the United States until 1914, and until then, the substance had a variety of (sometimes questionable) medical uses. Cocaine tonics, powders and pills were popularly believed to cure a variety of ailments, from headache and fatigue to constipation, nausea, asthma and impotence.
But by 1903, the tide of public opinion had turned against the widely used and abused narcotic, leading the Coca-Cola Company’s then-manager, Asa Griggs Candler, to remove nearly all cocaine from the company’s beverages. But Coke wouldn’t become completely cocaine-free until 1929, when scientists perfected the process of removing all psychoactive elements from coca-leaf extract.
While the modern-day recipe for Coca-Cola is a highly prized company secret, there is reason to believe that the beverage still contains the same non-narcotic coca-leaf extract that it did in 1929. According to The New York Times, the Coca-Cola Company was continuing to import coca leaves from Peru and Bolivia until at least the late 1980s.