Thursday, February 21, 2013

The back story behind taking cocaine out of Coca Cola

(condensed from an article at The Atlantic)
When cocaine and alcohol meet inside a person, they create coca-ethylene, which works like cocaine, but with more euphoria. So in 1863, when Parisian chemist Angelo Mariani combined coca and wine and started selling it, his Vin Marian became extremely popular. The chief rabbi of France and Pope Leo XIII loved the stuff.

Dr. John Stith Pemberton in Atlanta Georgia set out to make his own version, called Pemberton's French Wine Coca and marketed it as "a most wonderful invigorator (sic) of sexual organs." But as it took off, a prohibition on alcohol was passed in Dr. Pemberton's county in Georgia (34 years before the national prohibition). The French Wine Coca was now illegal because of the alcohol, not the cocaine.

Pemberton replaced the wine in the formula with sugar syrup. Coca Cola debuted in 1886. It quickly caught on as an 'intellectual beverage' among well-off whites. When the company started selling it in bottles in 1899, minorities banned from segregated soda fountains suddenly had access to it.

Middle-class whites worried that soft drinks were contributing to exploding cocaine use among African-Americans. Southern newspapers reported that "negro cocaine fiends" were raping white women, the police powerless to stop them. By 1903, the makers of Coke bowed to white fears, removing the cocaine and adding more sugar and caffeine, even though cocaine wasn't even illegal until 1914. 

Coke still contains coca — but the ecgonine alkaloid (which forms cocaine) is removed from it. Perfecting that extraction took until 1929, so before that there were still trace amounts of coca's psychoactive elements in Coca Cola.

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