I read with some horror that a Herald on Sunday investigation has found an energy drink with 3333mg caffeine per litre in it. The Demon Energy Shot, which contains this horrendous amount of caffeine, gets around the Food Standard Authority regulations (which restricts caffeine to a level of 320mg per litre) by calling itself a dietary supplement.
If every there was an argument to subjecting dietary supplements to the same regulatory regime as conventional drugs, this is it.
These “energy shots” are normally 2 fluid ounces (60ml), so the Demon energy shot will contain about 200mg of caffeine (about two and a half cups of expresso coffee). Unlike a double shot cappuccino, however, the energy shot is rammed full of Taurine, Glucuronolactone, and Guarana, all of which enhance the effects of the caffeine. The net result is a dangerously high level of stimulation from a single drink. Worse still, the volume of these “shots” are small enough to encourage the consumption of multiple doses over the course of a night.
The HoS tells the story of a young woman who suffered a heart attack after consuming daily amounts of 10-14 cans of Red Bull a day. The same effect is reached with only 4-5 of Demon’s “Shots”. I have had to deal with a number of cases of teenagers having psychotic episodes following multiple cans of energy drinks. This problem will almost certainly get worse with these types of “dietary supplements”. Caffeine in large amounts pushes up your blood pressure and reduces endothelial function dramatically, predisposing people to heart attacks. It is not a benign pick-me-up, nor is it a dietary supplement – it is a stimulant drug, pure and simple.
Unfortunately, when the caffeine wears off, you become extremely lethargic (and need to sleep), so the temptation is to take another dose. But this exacerbates the effect of eventual lethargy, setting up a vicious cycle, likely to end in collapse. These drinks are marketed directly to teenagers, the group most likely to abuse them and least likely to be aware of the dangers of excessive use.
I have no real objection to young people using energy drinks to keep themselves awake. For the most part, their consumption is pretty harmless. But the creation of these “shot” drinks are a deliberate and cynical ploy to encourage dangerous levels of use. We penalise the tobacco and alcohol companies when they encourage excess consumption. It is high time we closed the loophole on the energy drinks to ensure that they are consumed in a reasonably sensible manner. The FSA need to close this loophole in our dietary supplement laws immediately.