CAFFEINE AS A SUPPLEMENT? IT CAN BE DEADLY by Dr. Henry Paul, MD

February 12th, 2015

White powder DRPAUL“It’s fundamentally irresponsible to be selling this powerful drug in this form to consumers. … It’s a dangerous, potent drug that, if taken in as little as a teaspoon, runs the risk of being a lethal overdose to people.” – Michael Taylor, FDA

This week, Sen. Charles Schumer (D – New York) urged the Food and Drug Administration to ban powdered caffeine, which has been linked to at least two deaths among young adults.

According to Schumer, two healthy, young male adults died in 2014 as a result of taking powdered caffeine. One young adult in Ohio died of cardiac arrhythmia and a seizure. The other, a newly married college graduate from Georgia, died after being in a coma caused by powdered pure caffeine. In both cases, the young men thought the powdered pure caffeine was a safe way to get an energy boost. They had even done some research on it.

Parents beware! Powdered pure caffeine can be deadly. “Powdered caffeine, marketed as a dietary supplement, is unregulated. One teaspoon of it concentrated is equivalent to 25 cups of coffee,” according to the FDA. “Pure caffeine products are potentially dangerous, and serious adverse events can result, including death. People with pre-existing heart conditions should not use them.”

How much is it and where can teenagers get it? It costs less than $20 for 250 grams and is easily purchased on the Internet. Websites tout the product as a “clean and pure bulk supplement” and claim that it boosts metabolism, and it increases fat oxidation. The small sample of websites that I visited did include a warning that caffeine is “dangerous” and can be toxic.

Schumer compared powdered pure caffeine to Four Loko as an example and said in a statement. “We all remember Four Loko, which combined an incredibly high level of alcohol and caffeine; after Four Loko caused a number of deaths and hospitalizations, the FDA stepped in and stopped companies from selling the Four Loko. Likewise, the FDA should step in and immediately ban powdered caffeine, before it claims the lives of any more young adults.”

In late December 2014, the FDA issued an advisory warning to parents regarding powdered pure caffeine. “Pure Caffeine is a powerful stimulant, and very small amounts may cause accidental overdose. Parents should be aware that these products may be attractive to young people,” the advisory stated. Parents should also be aware that caffeine is often taken by athletes to improve their performance.

The problem that the FDA faces in regulating caffeine powder, however, is that it is marketed as a supplement – a group of products that does not need FDA approval to be sold. So what can parents do? Like with MOLLY, marijuana, heroin, painkillers and any other dangerous drug out there today – you need to talk with your teenager about the dangers. Open the lines of communication so that your teenager is comfortable coming to you and talking with you about these drugs, and quite frankly any other drugs that are out there that you may not be familiar with. Also, know the warning signs and what to do if you suspect something is “off” with your teenager. Below are the FDA recommendations regarding powdered pure caffeine and some additional links to stories relating to the dangers.

What to do (FDA Advisory) 

  • The FDA advises consumers to avoid powdered pure caffeine.
  • It is nearly impossible to accurately measure powdered pure caffeine with common kitchen measuring tools and you can easily consume a lethal amount.
  • If you believe that you are having an adverse event related to caffeine, stop using it and seek immediate medical care or advice.
  • The FDA wants to know about adverse events associated with powdered pure caffeine and other highly caffeinated products. You or your health care provider can help by reporting these adverse events to FDA in the following ways:
  • By phone at 240-402-2405
  • By email at CAERS@cfsan.fda.gov

Read more on Powdered Pure Caffeine:

Tragic Deaths Highlight the Dangers of Powdered Pure Caffeine posted by Michael M. Landa FDA Voice, 12/16/14

Schumer Calls on FDA to Ban Powdered Caffeine, Citing Dangers to Teens by Joe Jenkins Putnam Daily Voice, 2/10/15

Potent Powdered Caffeine Raises Safety Issues, NPR Morning Edition, 12/31/14 – Click to listen.

FDA Hands Tied in Powdered Caffeine Abuse Cases, by Kimberly Leonard, USNews, 12/29/14

FDA Targeting Sellers of Pure Caffeine Powder by Mary Clare Jalonick, Associated Press, 12/23/ 2014

DISCLAIMER Information contained in this blog is intended for educational purposes only. It is not intended as medical or psychiatric advice for individual conditions or treatment and does not substitute for a medical or psychiatric examination. A psychiatrist must make a determination about any treatment or prescription. Dr. Paul does not assume any responsibility or risk for the use of any information contained within this blog.