• Weird History

Every Product That Used To Contain Cocaine

Before the US's first foray into substance control, drugs weren't regulated at all, and many considered dangerous by today's standards were everywhere - that's why there were so many everyday items that once contained cocaine.

Though regulation started in the early 1900s, cocaine was not strictly controlled in the US until 1914, when the Harrison Narcotics Tax Act passed, and it wasn't technically illegal until it was classified as a Schedule II drug. The hysteria over cocaine use, which had prior to this point been a fairly normal thing, came largely from racist assumptions that Black men using cocaine would hurt white women. Even when cocaine was illegal, the substance was still a cultural force throughout the 20th century, and advertisers were quick to capitalize on the drug's popularity with vintage cocaine ads in the '70s and '80s.

But just because something is illegal doesn't mean it ceases to exist. Cocaine products of the past weren't just in the forms we're familiar with - they included the plant's leaves, powdered forms, and other variations, infusing everything from sodas to medicines to margarine. The stimulant had a lot of medical uses thanks to cocaine's effects on the body, and manufacturers throughout history used those effects for some creative, surprising purposes. 

  • Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    The Coca In Coca-Cola Comes From Cocaine

    In the late 19th century, a cocaine-infused wine called Vin Mariani was all the rage in Europe. The concoction, invented by French chemist Angelo Mariani, was touted as a health tonic. US citizens developed a taste for the drink, and chemists stateside were eager to replicate it, including John Stith Pemberton.

    Pemberton was a pharmacist and claimed that his variation on coca wine, called French Wine Coca, not only captured the health benefits of wine and coca, but also the benefits of the kola nut. When the temperance movement came to Atlanta - thanks to the insistence of the Ku Klux Klan - Pemberton was forced to change his formula. He swapped the wine for sugar syrup, kept the cocaine and kola nut, and Coca-Cola was born.

    Marketed as the perfect temperance beverage, Coca-Cola still contained cocaine, and continued to do so until 1903. While the amount was smaller than the typical recreational dose, cocaine was an essential part of the formula in the drink's early days.

  • Photo: Max Halberstadt / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Freud Suggested Cocaine Helped With Sexual Impotence And Depression

    One of the first proponents of using cocaine medicinally was psychologist Sigmund Freud. Freud himself was a devoted user of the drug and even wrote a paper, called "Über Coca," all about its benefits. Freud said the drug was particularly useful for depression and sexual impotence, a claim the Surgeon General backed up in 1887.

    Freud's cocaine use eventually caught up with him when he and a colleague were performing a surgery, supposedly while under the influence. The procedure had horrific effects on the patient, which Freud wrote off as emblematic of her sexual desire for him. Still, the drug was considered to be free from consequences until much later and was continually prescribed for those suffering from depression.

  • The Drug Was Once Used In Hemorrhoid Treatment

    Cocaine's topical numbing properties made it a popular choice for any number of procedures, including the treatment of hemorrhoids. The drug was injected directly into the hemorrhoid before removal.

    While cocaine was - and still is, in some cases - a common aid in delicate surgical procedures because of its anesthetic properties, it had incredible drawbacks when treating hemorrhoids. There were numerous deaths because of the treatment, likely due to the concentration of cocaine injected into the body. Some doctors observed that the hemorrhoids treatment could cause drunken behavior, while application to the nose and throat did not. By 1896, doctors were calling for an end to the treatment.

  • Photo: McClure's Magazine / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Cocaine Supposedly Cured Dandruff And Baldness

    Cocaine used as an anesthetic and stimulant, however dubious, makes sense. But the drug was also reported to cure dandruff and baldness just by rubbing it on the scalp.

    The veracity of this cure-all - like every cure-all - is unclear. Certainly its anesthetic properties caused numbing or tingling in the scalp when rubbed there, but cocaine is actually reported to cause hair loss, not improve it.

    Still, truthfulness didn't matter all that much back in the days of snake oil, and the topical effects were likely enough to convince people of the product's success, no matter how silly it seemed to rub white powder in a person's hair to get rid of white flakes.