When Atlanta druggist and former Confederate soldier John Pemberton formulated Coca-Cola in 1886, it was one of numerous beverages of the time that contained cocaine. You couldn’t get a drink without cocaine in it. Everyone was a fiend back then. Pemberton even promoted Coke as a cure all for various afflictions. Indeed cocaine was used by doctors and druggists as an anesthetic, “the cure for what ails you.” And it works. Ask John Belushi. Consisting of cocaine, caffeine and alcohol, Pemberton used Coke to cure everything from a hangover to hysteria. In fact, soda fountains serving Coke were often more patronized than local saloons, like at the Korova Milk Bar in “A Clockwork Orange.”
By the 1890s, however, cocaine was dubbed as the cause of violence by the South’s black population. And, in 1903, a New York newspaper published a story linking the drug with black crime. Colonel J.W. Watson of Georgia was quoted as saying that “many of the horrible crimes committed in the Southern States by the colored people can be traced to the cocaine habit.”
Yes, like with the dreaded reefer a few years later, fear of minorities caused a perfectly wonderful drug to be outlawed in the U.S. Recognizing the need for some damage control, Coke started using “spent” coca leaves rather than fresh ones in their formula. The spent leaves are what’s left over after the cocaine has been removed. Coke was no longer a cure all, but merely a tasty, refreshing drink. Well, what the hell fun is that?
Added to this, in 1906, Congress passed the Pure Food and Drugs Law, which required manufacturers to list all the ingredients of their products on the product labels. Asa Candler, who had purchased Coca-Cola from Pemberton soon after its invention, and who was a deeply religious and sober gentleman, lowered both the cocaine and alcohol levels of Coke considerably. But the amount of caffeine stayed. Candler insisted it was a chief part of the formula and not nearly as harmful as the evil cocaine.
So who knows? Maybe if Coke had stayed within the Pemberton family, we would all still be guzzling cocaine beverages like they do marijuana-laced space shakes in Amsterdam. If not for this goody two shoes Candler, and the perceived violent nature of the newly-freed slaves hopped up on the dope, we would be getting through each day without a problem thanks to our mugs filled with delicious liquid cocaine.