The Rise of Pure Caffeine and its Deadly Consequences
The recent deaths of two young adults have put the dangers of excess caffeine consumption into sharp focus. In June of this year, the state of Ohio became the first state to ban pure powdered caffeine after a teenager overdosed on the stimulant and died days before his high school graduation.
More recently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to five pure powdered caffeine distributors, along with consumer advice to inform the public about the risks associated with pure caffeine.
Most people think of caffeine as harmless and probably wouldn’t put the words “caffeine” and “lethal” in the same sentence. But the truth is that caffeine is a drug, specifically a stimulant. And although it is relatively harmless when consumed in coffee or tea in moderation, excess caffeine, particularly in its pure form, can cause severe, sometimes even fatal, harm.
With 80 percent of adults in the U.S. consuming caffeine every day in some form, it is crucial to note the distinction between naturally occurring caffeine found in coffee or tea and synthetically produced caffeine that appears in soda, energy drinks and, more recently, in a pure, highly-concentrated powdered form.
Consuming concentrated amounts of caffeine through caffeine pills, caffeine powder, exercise supplements and energy drinks, can be toxic and result in hospitalization. The number of energy drink-related emergency room visits doubled between 2007 and 2011; one in 10 of those visits resulted in a hospitalization. In fact, it only takes a tablespoon of caffeine powder, or 10,000 milligrams, to cause death in an adult. And it is especially important to keep high caffeine-containing products out of the hands of young children.
You may be surprised to learn that there are no current government regulations that require manufacturers to disclose the presence of caffeine in certain products. Or that there are no regulations requiring manufactures to label the amount of caffeine that goes into a product. Only over-the-counter prescription medications and cola-type beverages have a limit on the amount of caffeine that they can contain.
For all other caffeinated products, the caffeine content is solely up to the manufacturer, which may help explain why caffeine is popping up not only in energy drinks, but in a wide array of consumable products favored by adults and children such as potato chips, gum, oatmeal, beef jerky and specialty water.
Having almost no regulations in place when it comes to the accessibility or availability of caffeine products like powder or energy drinks means that this potentially fatal problem is likely to get worse. That is, unless more states move in the direction of Ohio and enact legislation to restrict or prevent access to concentrated caffeine products. But the states can’t do it alone. It’s also time for the FDA to reevaluate its outdated caffeine regulations and to step up its efforts to prohibit the marketing of pure powdered caffeine and control or provide warnings for the caffeine content in consumable products.
Adetutu Adekoya, MA
Adetutu Adekoya is a Research Associate at CASAColumbia