The claim: The first bottle of Coca-Cola contained 3.5 grams of cocaine
Claims that Coca-Cola contains the illicit drug cocaine have existed since the company's founding. Now, they're circulating on social media.
“The first bottle of Coca-Cola from 1894 contained around 3.5 grams of cocaine,” the Facebook post, shared by 3,000 people, reads. “Explains why our parents & grandparents could walk to & from school, uphill, both ways, in the snow, barefoot.”
The person who posted the meme did not respond to USA TODAY’s request for comment.
Early Coca-Cola contained cocaine
Coca-Cola did, in fact, once contain cocaine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. When the popular drink was invented, it was first marketed as a “patent medicine”; cocaine was legal at the time and was a common ingredient in medicines, according to the institute.
The cocaine in the drink – and later, its removal – presented a "delicate public relations problem" for the company in its early years, according to the book "For God, Country and Coca-Cola."
“If the company responded to attacks by telling the truth, they would be admitting that the drink did once have cocaine in it," author Mark Pendergrast wrote in “For God, Country and Coca-Cola." "The implication would be that they had removed it because it was harmful, which might even open the door to lawsuits. Besides, it was unthinkable to admit that Coca-Cola had ever been anything but pure and wholesome.”
According to the book, John Candler, grandson of Coca-Cola founder Asa G. Candler, attempted to rewrite history by denying the drink ever had cocaine in it.
Company spokesmen told The New York Times in 1988 that the original recipe, brewed in 1886, included cocaine, but the drug was eliminated from the recipe just after the turn of the century.
In response to USA TODAY's request for comment, Ann Moore, a spokesperson for Coca-Cola, said the drink "does not contain cocaine or any other harmful substance, and cocaine has never been an added ingredient in Coca-Cola."
The cocaine in the drink was more specifically ecgonine, a precursor to cocaine, according to Snopes. It was derived from extract from the coca plant.
Fact check: PayDay candy bar is not changing its name
Although coca leaves are illegal in the United States, the company still uses them to make their famous drink after they’ve been “de-cocainized” by Stepan Chemical Co. in Maywood, New Jersey, according to Scientific American.
Cocaine formerly in drink likely much less than 3.5 grams
While there’s no way to know for sure exactly how much cocaine was once in the popular soda, it’s unlikely the amount reached 3.5 grams.
According to Snopes, which examined the claim in 1999, there was just 1/400 of a grain of cocaine per ounce of syrup by 1902 and the drink was cocaine-free by 1929, when the de-cocainization process was perfected.
Our rating: Missing context
We rate the claim that the first bottle of Coca-Cola contained 3.5 grams of cocaine as MISSING CONTEXT because without additional information it could be misleading. While Coca-Cola did once contain some cocaine, it’s very unlikely the drink contained that much.
Our fact-check sources:
National Institute on Drug Abuse, Nov. 9, 2020, Did Coca-Cola Ever Contain Cocaine?
Mark Pendergrast, May 2013, "For God, Country, and Coca-Cola"
Coca-Cola Great Britain, Oct. 1, 2020, Does Coca‑Cola contain cocaine?
Snopes, May 19, 1999, Did Coca-Cola Ever Contain Cocaine?
Scientific American, July 27, 2015, I'd Like to Make the World a Coke: Attempting the "Original" Coca-Cola Formula
New York Times, July 1, 1988, How Coca-Cola Obtains Its Coca
Thank you for supporting our journalism. You can subscribe to our print edition, ad-free app or electronic newspaper replica here.
Our fact-check work is supported in part by a grant from Facebook.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Coke once contained cocaine but likely less than claimed