For Americans, caffeine is quickly becoming a potentially dangerous obsession. Gone are the days where a caffeine fix came from a simple cup of coffee or day. Today, caffeine comes in a wide variety of formulations.
Energy drinks, pills, and even gum are replacing more traditional methods. Perhaps most alarming is pure powdered caffeine, which can be purchased for as little as $10 per pound. One teaspoon of the powder contains the same amount of caffeine as about 28 cups of coffee.
Yet such potency can be dangerous.
In recent years, thousands of people have overdosed on caffeine, while others have suffered through experiences of addiction and withdrawal.
In the most extreme cases, deaths have resulted.
One 14 year old with a heart condition went into cardiac arrest after consuming two heavily caffeinated energy drinks within a 24 hour period.
A 19 year old individual from Connecticut died upon consuming a dozen caffeine pills.
A healthy teen from Ohio died upon ingesting powdered caffeine.
With all of these cases, the Food and Drug Administration has started to warn consumers about the associated risks of caffeinated products. They are also urging manufacturers to reconsider how their products are marketed.
The FDA began investigating the phenomenon in 2012 after 13 people died using the popular supplement 5-Hour Energy.
The popular product contains caffeine along with other ingredients. In 2013, the agency pressured gum manufacturer Wrigley into discontinuing its caffeinated gum. Most recently, the FDA has issued warnings to five distributors of powdered caffeine. The FDA says that pure powdered caffeine is dangerous and presents a significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury to consumers.
Caffeine is a bitter white alkaloid that is naturally found in the beans, leaves, and fruit of more than 60 plants. It is the most widely consumed psychoactive agent worldwide. Roughly 85% of Americans are believed to consume caffeine at least once per day. Many of these individuals are children, some of whom aren’t even in kindergarten. Taken in moderation, caffeine poses little to no risk. In fact, certain studies have found that the consumption of caffeine can reduce the risk of diseases such as Parkinson’s and cancer. However, excessive consumption can be deadly.
Hospital have reported an increase in caffeine-related cases in recent years. From January 1st to July 31st this year, poison centers across the country have reported 1,675 cases involving energy drinks. Nearly two-thirds of these cases were from children under the age of 18. Furthermore, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM-5, listed “caffeine withdrawal” as a legitimate medical disorder.
Overall, it doesn’t appear that the usage of caffeine will be slowing down anytime soon. However, it is important to be careful when consuming the popular legal stimulant in all its newly created forms.