Shock waves as Coca-Cola turns to cannabis

Fizz: The first Coca-Cola drink was alcoholic and contained traces of the drug cocaine.

Is the company making a mistake? Coca-Cola is considering a new cannabis-infused range of drinks to help promote “wellness”. The drug is being legalised in an increasing number of countries.

The Coca-Cola Company is one of the most powerful corporations in history. Over 10,000 of its drinks are consumed every second; 96% of the planet’s population recognise its logo; and “Coca-Cola” is the second most widely understood phrase in the world after “OK”.

But it could be about to move in a bold new direction.

Coca-Cola is in talks with a Canadian marijuana producer, and “closely watching” the cannabis drinks sector. This means a cannabis-infused Coca-Cola drink could be in the pipeline — although a spokesman insisted that “no decisions have been made”.

The company is interested in a substance called cannabidiol (CBD). This is a non-psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, meaning it does not produce the “high” that the drug is known for. CBD can already be found in drinks and beauty products in parts of the United States — some people even feed it to their pets.

Many are excited about its potential medicinal qualities. In August, researchers found that CBD could be an effective treatment for psychosis. Advocates also say it can relieve arthritis, chronic pain, insomnia, anxiety, depression and epilepsy.

But uncertainty remains. Research into CBD’s medicinal properties is piecemeal and in early stages. “Large numbers of people need to have been treated with a particular medication for a long enough time to fully understand the long-term effects,” cautions Dr Sagnik Bhattacharyya. “We do not have that kind of data yet with cannabidiol.”

In spite of this, cannabis legalisation is becoming increasingly common. Yesterday, South Africa’s high court legalised recreational use of cannabis. Canada will do the same next month, and nine American states already allow it.

This shift in the drug’s public perception and legal status presents a tempting new market for Coca-Cola — particularly as the popularity of sugary drinks wanes. Consumption of fizzy cola drinks fell by 3.1% globally between 2012 and 2017.

Even so, is the company making a mistake?

Gone flat

Absolutely, some argue. Questions remain surrounding CBD, which has had limited testing. Coca-Cola would give it a huge boost, seeing it consumed by countless people causing unknown consequences. If people start drinking cannabis, millions more could start smoking the drug too. Legalisation is one thing, but promoting drug use on a mass scale is quite another.

Relax, others respond. Coca-Cola would only use non-psychoactive ingredients, which early tests show can have amazing health benefits. We shouldn’t block progress because of outdated and illiberal attitudes to drugs. Furthermore, allowing corporations to test and manufacture products like this is the best way to ensure their safety. This is good news.

You Decide

  1. Should cannabis be legalised?
  2. Is Coca-Cola a good company?

Activities

  1. In one minute, write down as many words as you can that you associate with the term “drug”. As a class, write your ideas up on the board. Are most of the words positive or negative? Do you think social attitudes to drugs are changing for the better? Why/why not?
  2. Do some background research into the Coca-Cola Company. Look into its history, the products it has produced over time, and the controversies it has been involved in. Overall, do you think the company has had a good impact on the world? Write a paragraph in response.

Some People Say...

“Things go better with Coke.”

Coca-Cola slogan from 1963

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that Coca-Cola has not announced any concrete plans to produce cannabis-infused drinks, and that recent announcements represent the early stages of possible development. However, cannabis drinks produced by smaller manufacturers are currently available in some countries and US states.
What do we not know?
We do not know for sure if Coca-Cola will follow through with this plan. However, with carbonated drinks facing an uncertain future, the company will be keen to exploit new markets and opportunities. This was demonstrated most recently when Coca-Cola purchased Costa Coffee, a British coffee chain.

Word Watch

Drinks
The Coca-Cola Company produces over 3,500 different brands of soft drinks, including Fanta, Powerade and Oasis fruit juice.
High
This effect is produced by a substance called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Psychosis
A serious mental health problem in which sufferers are severely detached from reality. The study into CBD as a potential treatment for the condition was conducted by researchers at Kings College London.
Insomnia
Inability to sleep.
Epilepsy
The use of CBD to treat epilepsy was at the centre of a high-profile incident this summer, when a British boy had his CBD medication confiscated by police. Read about it by following The Day link in Become An Expert.
Early stages
For more on the potential problems surrounding CBD use, see the Discover link in Become An Expert.
3.1%
According to Euromonitor.

Subjects

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