Coca leaves have been chewed and consumed as tea for thousands of years in the high Andes. They are rich in many essential nutrients; they ease respiratory and digestive distress and are a natural stimulant and painkiller. Indigenous tradition and scientific studies have both confirmed that in their natural form, the leaves are completely safe and non-addictive — it takes intensive processing and toxic chemical ingredients to produce cocaine. That’s why more and more coca-containing products have started to hit the market in Andean countries in the past few years.
Yet the United States still aggressively pursues an eradication policy that encourages Andean governments to spray their forests with toxic chemicals to eliminate this medicinal crop. It is illegal to import or possess the leaves under U.S. law — unless you’re the Coca-Cola company. In an effort to preserve the traditional flavor of the best-selling drink, the company long ago convinced the U.S. government to exempt it from the law.
(Coca-Cola, by the way, used to literally contain cocaine in its original formula. The practice was halted in 1903, but the name persisted. The “coca” part of “coca-cola” is derived from the coca plant, and the “kola” comes from the kola nut which also flavored the original beverage.)
Coca-Cola is the only U.S. corporation that has been granted the right to legally import coca leaves into the United States, via a coca processing lab known as the Stepan Company). In 1922, the Jones-Miller Act banned cocaine imports into the United States, but Coca-Cola (and its lab) was granted an exception. This exception remained a secret until the late 1980’s when the New York Times seemed shocked to discover the truth.
As the New York Times published in 1988 (http://www.nytimes.com/1988/07/01/b…)
This week, details of how Coca-Cola obtains the coca and how it is processed emerged from interviews with Government officials and scientists involved in drug research programs. They identified the Illinois-based Stepan Company as the importer and processor of the coca used in Coke. After Stepan officials acknowledged their ties to Coca-Cola, the soft drink giant confirmed those details of its operations.
In a telephone interview from Coca-Cola’s Atlanta headquarters, Randy Donaldson, a company spokesman, said, ”Ingredients from the coca leaf are used, but there is no cocaine in it and it is all tightly overseen by regulatory authorities.”
Read the whole story of “The Secret History of Coca-Cola, Coca Leaves, and Cocaine.”