Why We Took Cocaine Out of Soda

You may be thinking, logically, as I was, why would anyone want to do this? A little cocaine would certainly help work off the sugar infusion. But even before that, there were issues. First, there was Vin Mariani – a undoubtably very addictive combination of alcohol and cocaine. The objectionable ingredient eventually banned was the alcohol. And that's how cocaine became a feature of a legal alternative, Coca-Cola. But the story doesn't end there. ~ Ilene 

Why We Took Cocaine Out of Soda

By  (James Hamblin, MD, is The Atlantic's Health editor)

Social injustice and "a most wonderful invigorator of sexual organs"

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1894 ad for Vin Mariani,  art by Jules Cheret

When cocaine and alcohol meet inside a person, they create a third unique drug called cocaethylene. Cocaethylene works like cocaine, but with more euphoria.


So in 1863, when Parisian chemist Angelo Mariani combined coca and wine and started selling it, a butterfly did flap its wings. His Vin Marian became extremely popular. Jules Verne, Alexander Dumas, and Arthur Conan Doyle were among literary figures said to have used it, and the chief rabbi of France said, "Praise be to Mariani's wine!" 

Pope Leo XIII reportedly carried a flask of it regularly and gave Mariani a medal. 

Seeing this commercial success, Dr. John Stith Pemberton in Atlanta — himself a morphine addict following an injury in the Civil War — set out to make his own version. He called it Pemberton's French Wine Coca and marketed it as a panacea. Among many fantastic claims, he called it "a most wonderful invigorator of sexual organs."


But as Pemberton's business started to take off, a prohibition was passed in his county in Georgia (a local one that predated the 18th Amendment by 34 years). Soon French Wine Coca was illegal — because of the alcohol, not the cocaine. 

Pemberton remained a step ahead, though. He replaced the wine in the formula with (healthier?) sugar syrup. His new product debuted in 1886: "Coca-Cola: The temperance drink."

After that, as Grace Elizabeth Hale recounted recently in the The New York Times, Coca-Cola "quickly caught on as an 'intellectual beverage' among well-off whites." But when the company started selling it in bottles in 1899, minorities who couldn't get into the segregated soda fountains suddenly had access to it. 

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  1. […] As an aside, if you’re wondering about the history of Cocaine and the soda industry, read: Why we took the cocaine out of soda.  […]

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