Caffeine powder sounds innocent enough, right? After all, it's "natural" and we drink caffeine in coffee and sodas all the time. But taking pure caffeine powder is not like going to Starbucks. A 100-gram package contains as much caffeine as 400 "tall" cups of Starbucks coffee, or 1,250 Red Bull energy drinks, or 3,000 cans of Coke. A mere 10 grams, or about 2/3 of a tablespoon, is a lethal dose for an adult.
Because caffeine powder is sold as a dietary supplement, the FDA has no pre-market regulatory oversight. It must play catch-up after the damage is done. In December, 2014, the FDA issued a
Symptoms of caffeine overdose can include rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures and death. Vomiting, diarrhea, stupor and disorientation are also symptoms of caffeine toxicity.
Even with the possibility of such dire consequences with ingestion of even small amounts, the
Kate Stiner, mother of the high school student who died, can't understand why the FDA hasn't taken further action. We share Ms. Stiner's frustration, but ours lies mostly with Congress, which is largely responsible for this situation.
Daniel Fabricant, who recently went through the revolving door between the FDA and industry,
It is the dosage that makes anything a poison," he said, paraphrasing a common saying among toxicologists. "Take water... [or] salt for example — if you use too much, it creates problems. I think that's really the issue here. People safely use caffeine every day.
But as Business Insider, which quoted Mr. Fabricant, points out, this argument is disingenuous. It is much easier to take a fatal dose of caffeine powder than it is of water or salt. Their reporters, in an article cleverly titled "We bought a bag of caffeine equivalent to 15,625 cans of Coca-Cola for $30," show just how hard it is to measure a safe dose. The average kitchen scale measures in grams, not milligrams. And with such a small recommended safe dose, why sell it in such large quantities? They bought a 500 gram bag over the internet.
Some jurisdictions are taking action, or trying to. Suffolk County, NY, banned sales to minors. The Illinois and Ohio Senates approved bills banning retail sales and bills have been introduced in other states. But because most sales are over the internet, the effectiveness of this regulation is open to question. Six U.S. Senators asked the FDA to ban retail sales altogether but, so far, the FDA says only that it "will consider regulatory action."
In March, the