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Energy Drinks Gone Bad

Okay, the headline is a little extreme, but when I read an article my friend send to me and a few others, it made me really mad. A teen in Joplin, Missouri drank two cans of NOS, a popular energy drink that, according to the back of the can, contains 260 milligrams of caffeine, 2,000 milligrams of amino acid taurine and 400 milligrams of another amino acid L-carnitine, 200 milligrams of inositol, and 100 milligrams of ginseng extract. Just to give you a little perspective: one cup of regular coffee has between 80 and 120 milligrams of caffeine. So this boy drank the equivalent of five cups of coffee. And then he had a seizure and wound up in the hospital’s intensive care unit. On a respirator. For five days.

Energy drinks are big business. In 2007 Americans spent $6.6 billion on them. That number is expected to shoot up past $9 billion by the end of next year. But they’re also a little controversial. Marketed heavily to teens — last summer my own then 17-year-old nephew participated in a scavenger hunt, Red Bull Stash, which was promoted heavily on Facebook — experts have been calling for mandatory warning labels for a while. The one that the Joplin teen drank had one. According to the news report, the back of the can “warns that the drink is powerful and not recommended for children, pregnant women or people who are sensitive to caffeine.”

I think the problem here is that kids don’t understand that caffeine is a drug. (There’s a reason that people get headaches and cravings when they go cold turkey on their usual cup of coffee.) But that may change. In Louisiana lawmakers are trying to ban their sale to minors. Experts say that plenty of kids are mixing alcohol and energy drinks, which can cause confusion, according to one recent study. Researchers found that the caffeine in energy drinks actually makes it harder for someone to grasp the fact that they are drunk. It can also kill. France, Norway, and Denmark have banned Red Bull, for example, after a popular soccer player died after drinking four cans of it before a game.

Me, I don’t drink energy drinks. I wouldn’t give them to my kids, either. And I don’t support banning them. There have been studies linking a little caffeine with boosted athletic performance. However, I would support limiting their sale to minors, and I also think it’s important for parents to talk to their kids about the effects of caffeine. They need to know what it is, what it can do, and when it can be dangerous. If I were a parent of a teen I’d probably print out the article about the Joplin teen and give it to my kid. How about you?

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