In May 1886, in Atlanta, Georgia, pharmacist John Pemberton sold the first bottles of a new medicinal beverage he had invented to treat his morphine addiction. Marketed as a brain and nerve tonic, the medicine was named "Coca-Cola" after its two key ingredients: caffeine, derived from kola nuts, and cocaine.
Unfortunately for Pemberton, his drink did not have the desired effect. Within two years he had sold the rights to his formula to pay for morphine, and the company that bought them quickly bowed to the public mood and reduced the cocaine levels in the drink to a mere trace – finally making it cocaine-free in 1929.
But now, after 130 years as the friendly face of the ongoing obesity crisis, the world's largest beverage company might be eyeing a return to its roots – but with an altogether different drug of choice.
"The Coca-Cola Co. is in 'serious talks' with Aurora Cannabis Inc. to develop cannabis-infused beverages," reports Canada's BNN Bloomberg, citing "multiple sources familiar with the matter."
Since Canada legalized cannabis for recreational use earlier this year, local companies have been racing to get a foothold in the imminent edibles market, developing boutique brownie mixes, protein bars, and even a cannabis beer. And, faced with stagnating sales, global corporations have also been taking a look at the opportunities the newly legal industry might provide, with Coca-Cola, as well as a handful of alcoholic beverage companies, reportedly exploring the sector last month.
True to their history, however, Coke will apparently be taking a leaf out of the UK's book and concentrating on the medicinal benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) – a constituent of cannabis that can ease pain and inflammation, but has no psychoactive effect.
"They’re pretty advanced down the path," BNN Bloomberg's source reported. "It’s going to be more of the ‘recovery drink’ category."
A partnership between Coca-Cola and local Albertan producer Aurora Cannabis would be pretty big news, as it would make Coke the first major non-alcoholic drinks manufacturer to enter the cannabis market. Both companies have nevertheless stayed tight-lipped about the talks, with a spokesperson from Aurora telling BNN Bloomberg that they "do not discuss business development initiatives until they are finalized" – although they did confirm that they intend to move into the infused-beverage market.
According to BNN Bloomberg – or, rather, their unnamed source – Aurora isn't the first cannabis company Coca-Cola has approached to develop a cannabis strategy, and there's no guarantee these talks will be successful. But with the company's recent desire to diversify its portfolio, analysts say the move into the cannabis sector is not surprising.
"Along with many others in the beverage industry, we are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world," Coca-Cola announced in a somewhat cryptic statement on the matter. "The space is evolving quickly. No decisions have been made at this time."