Fact Check: Was There Ever Cocaine in Coca Cola, As Elon Musk Implied?

U.S. billionaire Elon Musk, whose impending Twitter takeover has dominated tech headlines this week, is known for making regular tongue-in-cheek tweets.

On Wednesday, Musk posted one of his most popular tweets yet by joking that he might buy the Coca-Cola brand next and referred to a popular rumor regarding its original ingredients.

The Claim

On April 27, Elon Musk made a series of Tweets referring to his upcoming purchase of Twitter. In one of the tweets, he wrote: "Next I'm buying Coca-Cola to put the cocaine back in."

Elon Musk Jokes About Coca-Cola
Elon Musk Jokes about the content of Coca-Cola. Elon Musk tweeted today that he would like to buy Coca-Cola to “put the cocaine back in” to the popular drink. Britta Pedersen/Getty Images/Getty

The tweet proved incredibly popular, gaining 2.6 million likes and more than 500,000 retweets and quote tweets combined within less than 12 hours.

The Facts

The claim may sound like an urban legend, but it is true that the original recipe for Coca-Cola, the popular carbonated soda brand, contained something at least similar to cocaine.

The U.S. government's National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) states that the original Coca-Cola formulation "contained cocaine in the form of an extract of the coca leaf" and that the 'Coca' part of the product's name was a reference to the coca leaf from which cocaine can be extracted.

The drink was invented in 1885 by Atlanta pharmacist John Pemberton who formulated it in his backyard. At that time, cocaine was believed to be safe to use in small amounts and was a common ingredient in medicine.

At the time, medicines were not regulated as heavily as they are today. Someone could claim that their medicinal product had all sorts of health benefits and would not have to prove this or disclose any risks. Pemberton advertised Coca-Cola as a "brain tonic" that could cure headaches and combat fatigue, NIDA states.

Despite the above, Coca-Cola Great Britain states on its website that "cocaine has never been an added ingredient in Coca-Cola". Newsweek has contacted The Coca-Cola Company and Coca-Cola Great Britain for comment.

NIDA declined to comment in time for publication.

This denial may or may not be due to the fact that the 'cocaine' ingredient used in the original Coca-Cola recipe was actually ecgonine according to fact-checking website Snopes, which is a chemical described as "a metabolite of and a precursor to cocaine" by the European Bioinformatics Institute.

It is unclear how much cocaine or ecgonine was ever present in the original Coca-Cola recipe, but in any case it was reduced over time and eliminated entirely by 1929 according to NIDA.

The Ruling

Fact Check - Half True

Half True.

Ecgonine, which is not cocaine but is chemically similar to it and obtained from the same leaf, was present in the original Coca-Cola recipe in trace amounts, but removed entirely by 1929.