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Energy Drinks Demonized. Again.

Steven Seagal's Lightning Bolt!

The journal Drug and Alcohol Dependence this month will contain a study, “Caffeinated Energy Drinks — A growing problem,” which expresses some serious concern and a lot of hoopla about caffeinated energy drinks. Some of their findings aren’t nonsense. For example, the idea that the labels should inform the consumer how much caffeine they’re about to ingest is a good idea. The idea that the labels should tell consumers to “not be a fucking idiot and drink more of this than you can handle” (my proposed label language) is also a good idea. Because otherwise you can get caffeine intoxication.

Caffeine intoxication, a recognized clinical syndrome included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases, is marked by nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, gastrointestinal upset, tremors, rapid heartbeats (tachycardia), psychomotor agitation (restlessness and pacing) and in rare cases, death.

Death is bad. So are tremors, because that means if you move around on the ground the giant worms will find you and kill your ass. Or maybe that’s the DTs.

[ad#longpost]Anyway, they go on to talk about a survey of college students. Check this out.

In a 2007 survey of 496 college students, 51 percent reported consuming at least one energy drink during the last month. Of these energy drink users, 29 percent reported “weekly jolt and crash episodes,” and 19 percent reported heart palpitations from drinking energy drinks. This same survey revealed that 27 percent of the students surveyed said they mixed energy drinks and alcohol at least once in the past month. “Alcohol adds another level of danger,” says Griffiths, “because caffeine in high doses can give users a false sense of alertness that provides incentive to drive a car or in other ways put themselves in danger.”

First of all, I know college students are cheap lab rats because they’re usually right there on campus but I went to college in the early 90s, when the closest we had to an energy drink was Jolt Cola. These same “weekly jolt and crash episodes” are called being in college. They would have the same thing with cheap coffee. So is the problem with energy drinks or is the problem with caffeine or is the problem with Being in College. I worked a full-time job and went to school full-time and was in a band in college. I was constantly going to the doctor about stress problems. My point is that there’s a lot of shit going on and that maybe caffeine/energy drinks are only one piece of the puzzle. Also, if you’re drinking so many energy drinks that you’re getting heart palpitations, then you’re a fucking idiot and needed my aforementioned warning label. Same thing with mixing alcohol and caffeine–it’s pointless. Get drunk or get wired. Doing both just is a waste of time: you wind up back where you started.

Here’s where these folks really start to lose me:

…most of the drinks advertise their products as performance enhancers and stimulants

Call me crazy, but…um, they are stimulants. That’s what caffeine is, cha-cha.

– a marketing strategy that may put young people at risk for abusing even stronger stimulants such as the prescription drugs amphetamine and methylphenidate (Ritalin). A 2008 study of 1,253 college students found that energy drink consumption significantly predicted subsequent non-medical prescription stimulant use, raising the concern that energy drinks might serve as “gateway” products to more serious drugs of abuse.

Wait, what? Look, I know I’m reading the Eureka Alert, and this journal may have gobs of data to back this up, but…what? Why aren’t you worried about coffee use? It’s the same–hate to use the S-word–stimulant. I know lots of people who drink coffee all day long. I know lots of people who drink multiple energy drinks each day. I know lots of people who drink soda all day long. I’ve never caught any of them popping Ritalin because the Diet Coke just wasn’t cutting it. Granted, that’s an unscientific observational thing I just did there. Maybe they’re doing it when I’m not around and getting ripped off their faces. But you more than likely know people who use energy drinks and other caffeinated products. And you probably know some people who use drugs. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of anyone I’ve known who dabbled in drugs where the caffeine had anything to do with it. They would have done it anyway. Christ, next thing you know they’re going to blame this on the Cocaine Energy Drink thing and Blow energy powder.

Potentially feeding that “transition” market, [Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., one of the authors of the article] says, are other energy drinks with alluring names such as the powdered energy drink additive “Blow” (which is sold in “vials” and resembles cocaine powder) and the “Cocaine” energy drink. Both of these products use the language of the illegal drug trade.

Potentially feeding. Which means you’ve done no actual studies that show that people using Blow or Cocaine will graduate into using actual cocaine–because if you had, you would have said so. I haven’t tried Blow–they never responded to my request for a sample–but I have tried Cocaine. The drink, mind you. And absolutely nothing about it made me want to snort cocaine. Miami Vice used the language of the illegal drug trade. All it did was screw up 80s fashion even worse than it already was. I bet you more lives have been ruined by the clothing trends caused by Miami Vice than have been ruined by people using drugs because those mean evil energy drinks roped them into it–who would have never touched the stuff if Red Bull hadn’t come along.

The American Beverage Assocation had a response. Let’s switch over to their press release for something, shall we?

Their review confirms that the amount of caffeine in mainstream energy drinks is, in fact, moderate. As a comparison, energy drinks typically contain half the caffeine found in regular coffeehouse coffee. Specifically, a 16-ounce regular blend coffee at a popular coffeehouse contains 320 mg of caffeine, while a comparable size mainstream energy drink contains about 160 mg. So those suggesting that energy drinks should require warning labels need to be aware of the slippery slope this would create: to be consistent, products at coffeehouses also would require such unnecessary labeling.

This is true. Starbucks, for example, can have a shitload of caffeine. And honestly, an energy drink that does go above 200mg is rare. I know–if they were common, I would drink them more. Now, granted, their thing about the labels and consistency is not a bad point. But I think, just like any other over the counter service place, if the ingredients are available upon request, then you’re covered.

Quite simply, energy drinks can be part of a balanced lifestyle when consumed sensibly.

This is very true. I have not seen the full study. I’ve made that clear. But I don’t need a study to know that some people don’t need to pile on the caffeine like I do. They don’t have the tolerance. Actually, I envy them, because they’re probably slimmer and have more money than I do as a result. But no matter. People need to know their limits. Companies need to be truthful about their products so that people can adhere to their limits. But blaming the energy drink segment of the beverage industry for people overusing their pr is like blaming McDonald’s for people getting fat from eating there too much. Nobody held a gun to anybody’s head and made them order the triple Big Mac instead of a salad. Just like nobody held a gun to anybody’s head and made them grab one of those disgusting 6-hour energy shot things instead of something tastier–you know, like an old shoe.

To the Johns Hopkins researchers: instead of blaming the industry, educate people. And for fuck’s sake, don’t go waving the Drug Flag around, because that’s a sure fire way to not be taken seriously. And to the energy drink purveyors out there, clearly mark your drinks for what they have in them. It’s to your advantage: some people like me dig the insane ones.


  • THANK YOU. So tired of people not thinking, or taking differences in environmental factors into account, or at least not putting that accounting into the foreground. It’s just sloppy and, in some cases, deceitful.


  • Well, I think in a lot of cases it’s deceitful. Because if you want to prove A, whatever A might be, and your initial investigation shows A, then I think a lot of people stop there. Instead of doing the due dilligence that it takes to firmly show, hey no shit, A. They might not be consciously deceitful, but then again, they’re scientists and should know better.

    Again, I have not read the whole study and they might brilliantly address every single concern I have. But after the whole Drug Flag business I have my doubts.