Powdered caffeine can be deadly in the hands of teens

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Anyone can purchase powdered caffeine over the counter or online, and many teenagers around the country are adding it into their routines. The danger is that it’s tough to distinguish between a little and a lot – and doctors say that small difference could kill you.

Two teenagers have died from overdosing on powdered caffeine, and now there’s a push to keep it out of the hands of young people.

A few cups of caffeinated coffee or tea can be a harmless way to get going in the morning, but its the power of the pure form of caffeine that doctors say is easy to underestimate.

“The issue is that people have the terrific ability to use too much of this, and they can get themselves into big problems,” said Dr. Jason Hack, Director of the Division of Emergency Medicine Toxicology at Rhode Island Hospital.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) considers powdered caffeine a supplement – meaning it’s not regulated by the agency – despite the fact that just a spoonful can be deadly.

The use of powdered caffeine has resulted in deaths of two otherwise healthy young men in Georgia and Ohio. The cause of 18-year-old Logan Stiner’s death was ruled “acute caffeine toxicity” when he overdosed on one teaspoon of powdered caffeine just days before his high school graduation.

Pure, powdered caffeine is easy for anyone to get their hands on. Eyewitness News purchased it online, and even though the website asked use to certify we were 18 or older, we never had to provide a birth date or identification.

The FDA says healthy adults shouldn’t have more than four or five cups of coffee a day. But measuring a safe dose of powdered caffeine isn’t so easy, especially when you’re reaching for a common measuring device, such as a teaspoon.

The FDA says one scoop is roughly the equivalent to the amount of caffeine in 28 cups of coffee, or 79 cans of soda. You would need a kitchen scale to measure out 400 milligrams of powdered caffeine, which the FDA says is your maximum daily dose.

“It’s exquisitely small, and most people don’t have the ability to regulate the caffeine to a dose that would be appropriate,” added Dr. Hack.

Just like coffee or energy drinks, powdered caffeine is perceived as a jolt of energy, maybe to help with a long night of studying, weight loss, or an extra push during workouts.

If a person takes too much powdered caffeine, Dr. Hack says “they would be tremulous, they might have trouble sleeping, they might do a lot of sweating, they might complain of palpitations or shortness of breath. The later stages though are very fast heart rate, seizures, altered mental status and cardiac arrest.”

Dr. Hack says so far no one has overdosed on powdered caffeine in Rhode Island. The danger, however, is still obvious to state Rep. David Bennett, D-Warwick, who’s set to reintroduce a bill that would prohibit the sale of powdered caffeine to anyone under the age of 21.

“If we don’t get ahead of it, then that’s how we’re going to find out. When people start dropping and having these problems,” he said.

In September, the FDA put five distributors of pure, powdered caffeine on notice. Since then, at least one manufacturer has updated its labeling to warn buyers about proper dosing. However, we’re not aware of any manufacturer that requires proof of age to purchase the powder.

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