Joint venture: Coca-Cola considers cannabis-infused range

Soft-drink maker in talks with marijuana producer about beverages to ease pain

Coca-Cola: the company’s original recipe, in the 1880s, included cocaine. Photograph: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Coca-Cola: the company’s original recipe, in the 1880s, included cocaine. Photograph: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

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The Coca-Cola Company is considering putting drugs back into its soft drinks. The world’s largest drinks firm, whose original recipe, more than a century ago, included a significant amount of cocaine, is evaluating whether to produce a range of marijuana-infused beverages to help ease physical problems such as inflammation, pain and cramps.

The company is in talks with a major Canadian marijuana producer, Aurora Cannabis, but stresses that it is interested in the properties of cannabis that treat pain but do not get users high. The talks come as Canada prepares to legalise cannabis for recreational use, after many years of permitting it for medicinal purposes. Cannabis is already legal in most parts of the United States for medicinal use, and is also legal in some states, including California and Colorado, for recreational purposes.

Coca-Cola says it is interested in developing  drinks infused with the nonpsychoactive ingredient found in cannabis plants that alleviates pain but does not make people high

Coca-Cola says it is monitoring the industry and is interested in developing new drinks infused with cannabidiol, or CBD, the nonpsychoactive ingredient found in cannabis plants that alleviates pain but does not make people high.

Many cannabis advocates argue that it is is capable of relieving conditions as disparate as depression, arthritis and diabetes. In Los Angeles CBD is among the latest wellness fads. It can be found in cocktails, and an upmarket juice bar will add a few drops of CBD-infused olive oil to a beverage for $3.50 (€3).

Coca-Cola says “no decisions have been made at this time” and will not comment on further speculation. It has not confirmed or denied the link with Aurora Cannabis, which was first reported by the Canadian broadcaster BNN Bloomberg. But its interest in marijuana comes as the fizzy soft drinks that made its name are in decline. Last month Coca-Cola announced that it was buying the Costa Coffee chain in a near-€4.5 billion deal that underlined the growing appeal of the global coffee market.

Drug culture: cannabis lemonade in a California store in 2012. Photograph: David McNew/Getty
Drug culture: cannabis lemonade in a California store in 2012. Photograph: David McNew/Getty

Canada is an obvious major market for a new wave of commercially produced drinks, given that recreational cannabis use is set to be legalised on October 17th. At the beginning of August it was announced that the Canadian brewer Molson Coors had struck a deal with the Hydropothecary Corporation, a Canadian cannabis producer, to launch a new standalone business that aims to develop “nonalcoholic, cannabis-infused beverages for the Canadian market following legalisation”.

Diageo, the maker of Guinness, is holding discussions with at least three Canadian cannabis producers about a possible deal, BNN Bloomberg reported last month. Heineken’s Lagunitas craft-brewing label has even launched a brand specialising in nonalcoholic drinks infused with THC, marijuana’s active ingredient. But Coca-Cola is the first major nonalcoholic-drinks manufacturer to consider such a move.

In 2003 Stepan imported 175,000kg of coca for Coca-Cola. That’s enough to make more than $200m worth of cocaine. They refer to the extract simply as ‘Merchandise No 5’

In December 2016, two-year-old Tristan Forde, from Co Cork, became the first person in Ireland to be allowed to be treated with medicinal cannabis under a licence, granted by the Minister for Health, that allowed his parents to import it for him.

Irish scientists have also announced plans to use CBD to develop treatments for some of the most common forms of epilepsy. Cannabidiol is also said to promote sleep, boost appetite and reduce stress, depression and anxiety.

Coca-Cola, which was introduced by John Pemberton, an Atlanta pharmacist, in 1886, originally included caffeine from kola nuts and cocaine from coca leaves. By 1903 or so the caffeine was eliminated – but the company still uses coca-leaf extract.

In 2013 the Atlantic reported that the extraction is done in a New Jersey chemical-processing facility by a company called Stepan, which in 2003 “imported 175,000 kilograms of coca for Coca-Cola. That’s enough to make more than $200 million worth of cocaine. They refer to the coca leaf extract simply as ‘Merchandise No 5.’ The facility is guarded.” – Guardian

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