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A Scientist Stole my Root Beer | Nature's Poisons

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A blog about poisons, with a rant about why "poisonous" sassafras root is no longer in root beer.

Great story of how the US FDA forced companies to use the processed version of the flavoring:

So we’re left with a chemical that’s insoluble in water, in already low concentrations, causes damage in rats at obscenely high amounts via a metabolite not even found in man. What’s the U.S. government to do? Ban it of course. In 1960 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned the addition of safrole in foods. Nevermind that safrole is present in every day foods like cinnamon and basil. This bone-headed decision forced root beer brewers to abandon Sassafras roots and extracted oils, and instead turn toward other additives to make up for the flavor loss.

I know this is getting long, but there are two conspiracy theories out there regarding why the FDA banned safrole, and you know I love me some conspiracy theories:

  1. Cola companies, particularly Coca-Cola, was concerned that root beer was cutting into their sales and profit margins, and coerced the FDA into banning safrole to put the hurt on the brewers. This I could buy into, because Coca-Cola has butted heads with the FDA before. Around 1910 the FDA wanted Coca-Cola to stop adding caffeine to their products, and even sued them. Coca-Cola said “no”, flipped them the bird, and went about their merry way. So there is some history of big business having power over government.
  2. Safrole is a building block in the synthesis of MDMA, also known world wide as Ecstasy. In two easy steps (or less if you’re clever), you can synthesize a whole range of MDMA and related designer stimulant drugs. This has the negative effect of massive deforestation in Asian countries of safrole containing trees, with a large portion of it being funneled towards illegal MDMA manufacturing in China and the U.S. The problem with this theory though is that although MDMA has been known since the early 1900’s, and tested in humans in the 50’s, it wasn’t used as a recreational drug until the late Alexander Shulgin’s lab synthesized and  tried it out in the early 80’s. Then in 1985 the DEA scheduled MDMA as a schedule-I drug. So the timing is a bit off for the FDA to become involved in the MDMA scene.

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