Energy Drinks: A Source of Potential Caffeine Intoxication?

Author:  Yangguang Ou
Institution:  Florida State University
Date:  September 2008

A recent study at Johns Hopkins University regarding energy drinks has raised doubts over the safety of popular energy drinks such as Red Bull, Monster and Full Throttle, which many adolescents and college students indulge in as regularly as they would soft drinks.

In an article published in the Journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence, the research team at John Hopkins argued that even though the range of caffeine concentration per energy drink varies from 50 mg to 500 mg per serving, some energy drinks contain enough caffeine to equal fourteen cans of Coca-Cola. To compare, a regular 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola contains an average of approximately 35 mg of caffeine per serving, while a 6-ounce cup of brewed coffee contains about 80 to 150 mg of caffeine per serving.

Roland Griffiths, a professor of behavioral biology and one of the contributing authors, noted that even though some energy drinks contain dangerous amount of caffeine, "...the caffeine amounts are often unlabeled, and few include warnings about the potential health risks of caffeine intoxication."

Griffiths also noted that caffeine intoxication is recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases as a type of clinical syndrome. According to the definition, caffeine intoxication can be characterized by nervousness, anxiety, restlessness, insomnia, gastrointestinal upset, tremors, rapid heartbeats, restlessness and pacing, and in rare cases, even death.

According to a recent 2007 survey of about 500 college students, more than half of the participants reported to drinking at least one energy drink in the past month. Of these students, about one in three reported "weekly jolt and crash episodes" while one in five reported heart palpitations from energy drink consumption. Alcohol consumption worsens the syndromes, according to the report, since caffeine in high doses gives the consumer a false sense of alertness while providing incentive to drive a car or perform other dangerous activities.

The American Beverage Association said in a statement that "It's unfortunate that the authors of this article would attempt to lump all energy drinks together in a rhetorical attack when the facts of their review clearly distinguishes the mainstream responsible players from novelty companies seeking attention and increased sales based solely on extreme names and caffeine content."

Griffiths and his colleagues are currently collecting more case files regarding caffeine dosage and its effect on the behaviors of children and adolescents.

Written by: Yangguang Ou

Edited by: Hoi See Tsao

Published by: Hoi See Tsao