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Regulators, Mount Up: What Happens to the Coke in Coca-Cola?

In order for Coca-Cola to continue to exist in its current form, the company has a special arrangement with the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Dan Lewis, author of the daily newsletter Now I Know (“Learn Something New Every Day, By Email”) joins us Wednesdays with surprising facts about the world of business.


In 1886, the city of Atlanta passed a short-lived law prohibiting the sale and/or manufacture of alcohol. In response, a pharmacist named John Pemberton created a faux wine, mixing together fruit flavors with extracts from kola nuts (caffeine) and coca leaves (cocaine). He dispensed it via soda fountains—at the time, carbonated water was believed to have medicinal benefit—and with that, Coca-Cola was born.

While the original Coke formula had a significant amount of cocaine in it, it was quickly limited and, by 1903 or thereabouts, eliminated from the recipe. This was done in part because the desired flavor can be extracted from the coca leaves, removing the cocaine and leaving the drug aside as a byproduct. To this day, Coca-Cola needs coca leaves to make its drinks; as a Coke exec told the New York Times, “[i]ngredients from the coca leaf are used, but there is no cocaine in it and it is all tightly overseen by regulatory authorities.”

In fact, the United States (and most other nations) expressly prohibits the sale and trade of coca leaves. In order for Coca-Cola to continue to exist in its current form, the company has a special arrangement with the Drug Enforcement Administration, allowing it to import dried coca leaves from Peru (and to a lesser degree, from Bolivia) in huge quantities. The dried coca leaves make their way to a processing plant in Maywood, New Jersey, operated by the Stepan Corporation, a publicly traded chemicals company. The Stepan factory imports roughly 100 metric tons of the leaves each year, stripping the active ingredient—the cocaine—from them. The cocaine-free leaves are then shipped off to Coke to turn into syrup, and, ultimately, soda.

What does Stepan do with the cocaine? It goes to the Mallinckrodt Corporation, which creates a legal, topical anesthesia called cocaine hydrochloride. Cocaine hydrochloride is used to numb the lining of the mouth, nose, or throat, and requires a DEA order form to obtain.

Bonus fact: Coca-Cola’s recipe contains a heavily guarded mystery flavoring, known as the “7X flavor.” In early 2011, This American Life broadcast an episode discussing a potential early recipe for the drink, but almost certainly not the one in use today. Coke denied that the program had discovered the true formula. In that episode, Mark Pendergrast, author of For God, Country, and Coca-Cola, an unauthorized history of the company (and beverage), told This American Life that “only two people know how to mix the 7x flavoring ingredient” and that “[t]hose two people never travel on the same plane in case it crashes; it’s this carefully passed-on secret ritual and the formula is kept in a bank vault.”

Double bonus! The image above is a coupon for a free Coca-Cola. The coupon, which dates back to 1888, is believed to be the first coupon ever issued.

To subscribe to Dan’s daily email Now I Know, click here. You can also follow him on Twitter.

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The problem with American Sign Language (ASL) is that over 500,000 people in the U.S. use it, but the country has over 330 million people.

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According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

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But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

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The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.





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The future generations will have to live on this Earth for years to come, and, not surprisingly, they're very concerned about the fate of our planet. We've seen a rise in youth activists, such as Greta Thunberg, who are raising awareness for climate change. A recent survey indicates that those efforts are working, as more and more Americans (especially young Americans) feel concerned about climate change.

A new CBS News poll found that 70% of Americans between 18 and 29 feel climate change is a crisis or a serious problem, while 58% of Americans over the age of 65 share those beliefs. Additionally, younger generations are more likely to feel like it's their personal responsibility to address climate change, as well as think that transitioning to 100% renewable energy is viable. Overall, 25% of Americans feel that climate change is a "crisis," and 35% feel it is a "serious problem." 10% of Americans said they think climate change is a minor problem, and 16% of Americans feel it is not a problem that worries them.

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