Red Bull Simply Cola was launched last year by the makers of Red Bull, and advertised as a “100 percent natural” cola with a jolt of energy. After running tests on the drink, officials in Germany concluded people might be hooked on the cola for the wrong reasons. They found traces of cocaine in the drink — about 0.13 micrograms per can. They even prohibited its sale in 11 states and considered a nationwide ban.

But is Red Bull really competing with Coke by using, well, coke? Did summer Jager Bombs suddenly get a little more edgy? Can drinking colas lead to a failed drug test?

Here’s a quick guide to separating the facts from the Red Bullshit.

Do colas really contain cocaine?

Coca-Cola was refined by pharmacist Dr. John Stith Pemberton, and originally sold as an elixir to cure hangovers, headaches and nervousness. The name comes from the drink’s two main ingredients — cocaine from the coca leaf and kola nut to add caffeine. It was estimated the cola once contained up to nine milligrams of cocaine per glass — enough to feel slight side effects from the drug including increased energy, blood pressure and heart rate. By the early 1900’s, people began to fear the side effects of cocaine and a social outcry began over use of the ingredient. Cocaine was removed from the cola by 1905. The current Coca-Cola recipe contains non-narcotic coca flavoring in place of the real thing. According to a Time Magazine report, Red Bull has said the traces of cocaine found in their new cola are also de-cocainized cocaine extracts.

What is de-cocainized cocaine?

De-cocainized cocaine is what is left over from the coca leaf after the narcotic cocaine has been removed. Also called “spent” coca leaves, the ingredient is used as a natural flavoring in foods and can also be found in some cosmetics. In Bolivia, it is an ingredient in some toothpastes, shampoos, and candies.

Why is it added to colas?

According to Red Bull, the ingredient is needed to add natural flavoring to the drink. Its tea-like flavor is said to balance out the flavor of the kola nut, making for a tastier beverage. Removing the coca flavoring would change the taste of the drink.

How significant is the amount of de-cocainized cocaine in these drinks?

According to Time Magazine’s report, a person would need to drink approximately 12,000 liters of Red Bull Cola to feel any cocaine-related side effects. That equals about 48,000 cans of Red Bull. At which point, cocaine effects may be the least of the health concerns.


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Why the ban?

According to the food safety department at Germany’s federal ministry for consumer protection, any traces of cocaine are enough to cause concern. German officials initially banned the sale of Red Bull Cola in six states. Five states followed suit, fearing they would violate narcotics laws if they continued to sell the drink. The ban might seem ridiculous in countries like Bolivia, however, where even President Evo Morales is a coca-grower. According to Time Magazine’s report, coca-growers in Bolivia, Peru, and surrounding countries have seen the controversy as a chance to prove the coca plant is not naturally harmful.

Is there reason to worry?

The Food and Drug Administration has listed de-cocainized coca leaf as safe and natural, so companies like Coca-Cola and Red Bull have found no reason to remove it from their products. After further study, Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment also said the traces of cocaine found in Red Bull Cola were not enough to pose a health risk. It’s also not enough to cause side effects or fail a drug test. So, drink up. Just keep the energy jolts to a 47,999 can maximum.

About The Author

Allison Hughes is Blast's Sci/Tech Editor

8 Responses

  1. coop

    They also said drinking coca teas would not cause a positive drug screen. Don’t believe the hype, try drinking a few a day for a week or two and I bet you’ll be testing positive been there done that.

  2. coop

    drug testing is done in nanograms .13 micrograms is 130 nanograms. 150 nanograms is the GC/MS cutoff for testing.

    • AHughes


      Studies have found two products that can result in a false positive for cocaine use—the antibiotic amoxicillin, and your coca tea. A study done in 1996 by Jenkins, Llosa, Mantoya, and Cone found a cup of prepared tea contained an average of 4.2 milligrams of cocaine. Cocaine metabolizes quickly, so the drug test actually measures the metabolite that breaks down cocaine called benzoylecognine (BE). After 48 hours, those who drank the coca tea had about three milligrams of BE still in their urine. That’s enough to test positive.

      The 150 nanograms per milliliter you mentioned is the cutoff for BE present in the urine. Since Red Bull Simply Cola starts out with 0.00013 milligrams (compared to the 4.2 milligrams of the coca tea), experts from the FDA and National Toxicology Specialists, Inc. have said the BE present in the urine from drinking the product would not be enough to cause a false-positive.

  3. Bob

    Allison needs to do a little more homework on this topic… First off, why is there a can of Red Bull depicted at the top of this screen? I thought we were talking about RB Simply Cola? Second, RB Simply Cola is not intended to provide a “Jolt” of energy by any means being that despite being made by an energy drink manufacturer it is simply a cold refreshing beverage. Get your facts strait and take a look at who just got of the free publicity!

  4. coop

    As for the positive drug test, has there been any human trials just because the FDA said it will not cause a positive screen how would they know? They don’t regulate sample testing of energy drinks they leave it up to the manufacturer. As for the toxicology expert have they done any test? Be behaves differently in many people. I’m simply stating a lot of people drink 3-5 of these drinks every day, who knows what their BE concentration would be after 2 to 3 weeks.

  5. detox

    I’ll have to agree with JMW and Doug: the risk of dying from pepper spray / taser is a lot less than being shot, and an option the police should continue to have.


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