Many people know that Coca-Cola, the number one selling soft drink in the world originally contained cocaine. But did you know that Coca-Cola, through a proxy company, has for a hundred years produced cocaine as a byproduct of making the soda? And they also sell it for pharmaceutical use. And it’s all 100% legal, at least for Coca-Cola it is.
With an epidemic of obesity in adults and as the world leader of childhood obesity, you may wonder why the United State’s government would enable the sellers of an over-sweetened syrup with zero nutritional and zero medicinal value to prosper around it despite harsh laws against cocaine for most American citizens. A drink containing several dangerous substances such as caffeine and caramel coloring, which is known to raise risk for cancer, is on almost every store shelf in the nation and is marketed relentlessly to us all, man, woman and child. However, other less harmful substances with actual medicinal properties, such as cannabis, are demonized and criminalized by the very same government.
But it was not always such a sweet relationship between Coca-Cola and the United States Government. In 1909 the United States v. Forty Barrels & Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola case was brought to the Supreme Court. This unique case alleged that the Coca-Cola product was in violation of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act. It tried to force The Coca-Cola Company to remove caffeine from the formula, believing that the product was adulterated and also misbranded. Although Coca-Cola won the 1909 decision, the government appealed twice, winning the second appeal in 1912, at which point Coca-Cola finally agreed not to remove, but at least to lower the amount of caffeine added to the Coke secret formula.
By this time in Coca-Cola’s history the cocaine had already mostly been voluntarily removed from the formula leading in part to the misbranded claims by the lawsuit brought by the feds. It was around this era just after the turn of the century that the Stepan Corporation becomes a part of the Coca-Cola process. The New Jersey company imports coca leaves, by special permit from the DEA, mainly from Peru and Bolivia. The leaves they import have already been processed and the alkali to make cocaine mostly but not completely removed. The import of coca leaves into the US is strictly forbidden, but special laws, unofficially known as Coca-Cola laws, give the company special permission to do so. The Stepan company further refines the cocoa leaves to chemically remove the residual cocaine materials and then extracts the flavor required for the Coca-Cola syrup.
The cocaine is then sold to and used by doctors for medicinal purposes. This is according to a 1998 New York Times article.
But if this is all legal, due to those special laws, then what’s the big deal? Well let’s look at the math.
According to the American Beverage Association American consumers on average drank just over 54 gallons of carbonated soft drinks per person in 2005. That made carbonated soft drinks the most popular beverage in the U.S., almost three times more popular than bottled water, milk or coffee. Although sugary soda consumption is on the decline in the US due to consumer awareness of how unhealthy it is, Coca-Cola still boasts regularly profits in excess of 10 billion dollars yearly.
Considering the quantity of decocainized coca leaves required to make that much Coke, where do the leaves that have already been decocainized come from? Who removed the cocaine? No other coca based products are even allowed to be sold in America. Are there enough legal uses for coca leaves to generate that much decocainized coca leaves for Coca-Cola to import and make their sugar filled drink? Could it have been drug cartels making cocaine then selling the leaves to third parties to sell to Stepan?
A 1906 Coke advertisement claimed that Coca-Cola”is the perfectly balanced combination of these valuable tonics in the form of a healthful drink.” But, in reality, there is absolutely no health benefit from Coca-Cola. In fact quite the opposite is true.
A 2016 study of 2,800 adults found that the consumption of at least two 7 oz. sugary or artificially sweetened soft drinks a day was linked to a twofold greater risk of type 2 diabetes. At five 7 oz. sugary or artificially sweetened soft drinks a day the risk increased to 10.5 times greater risk of type 2 diabetes. * Then there are the dental drawbacks, the addictive caffeine, the unsafe sugar spike. The mind altering combination of all these “stimulate”, including the carbonation is the perfect storm of being a gateway to a cycle of destructive behavior. Although there are many studies, funded by Coca-Cola, that will deny all these claims; but there are many, many more to support them.
But the extent to which the government will make allowances for Coca-Cola to profit off of a health risk to Americans does not stop there. In the 1960’s in Hawaii a project known as the Alakea project secretly teamed the Stepan Corporation with the University of Hawaii to grow coca directly on US soil. But that project was abandoned after a fungus destroyed the crops and Coca-Cola continued importing it’s coca leaves through Stepan corporation from South America. According to a 2011 Huffington post article this monopoly on coca imports into the United States also severely disrupts the cocaleros, or local coca farmers who grow the coca, leaving them at the mercy of cartels to turn a profit.
The baffling part of this is that the government at once can be so accommodating to enable a company to sell a nutritionally worthless, medicinal bankrupt product that contains numerous harmful and addictive properties. Not only do they enable it indirectly but sodas are also on the Food Stamps list, so they actually also pay for people to drink this harmful drink.
But this same government has demonized cannabis, which is known to have many medicinal values and has not been proven to be as harmful as even caffeine. The same government imprisons citizens, destroys lives and propagates lies to keep cannabis out of our hands. Why?
Perhaps it has to do with the down market benefits of the mass marketing, even to children, an unhealthy substance like Coca-Cola. The healthcare industry, diabetes medication, diet pills, exercise gyms, dentists, orthodontists and eventually funeral homes all greatly benefit from the mass sales of Coca-Cola. Or, perhaps it’s the “Special Taxes” that Coca-Cola pays to the government to import a controlled substance with special permits by the DEA. Truly, I would hate to think that it has a tie to the illegal cocaine industry but I can not rule that out considering the nefarious reputation of meddling and collusion in Central/ South America by the CIA, DEA and US government entities and their apparent friendliness to the Coca-Cola Company.
But in states where cannabis is legal, there is less illegal opioid abuse, less purchases of over the counter pain medication and less abuse of prescribed pain killers. So less money made by down market economies. Federally and in states where cannabis is still illegal there are mass amounts of money made on law enforcement, fines and incarcerating citizens for cannabis in private run state prisons. So for all the governments talk and bluster about health and safety of the citizens it’s pretty clear, as it most often is the case, that it’s all about the money.
By Matt Lamb
* Published by Josefin Edwall Löfvenborg, of the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, in the European Journal of Endocrinology.