Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Lethal Supplements

Throughout our CCS course, we've talked a lot about supplements. Generally, this talk has been about how many supplements don't actually include what they say they do (your ginkgo could just be lawn shavings), or even if the supplements have been proven to be effective for its intended usage.

The supplement I'm here to talk about today is not some supplement that "might" cure your Alzheimer's, or "might" help your back pain - in fact, the supplement I want to talk about is one of the most well researched drugs in the world with effects that are rather well-documented and relatively well understood. You probably have taken it sometime in your life - chances are that you have either been exposed to it or taken it at least once or twice a week. I'm currently on some of it right this moment.

The drug I'm talking about is caffeine. Yes, that stuff in your coffee and/or tea. 

All of us know the benefits of a hot cup pot  gallon of coffee during finals week. However, many college students (and some athletes) want the effects of coffee without some of the unwanted side effects that come along with drinking several cups of coffee.

That's where things like pills come into play. Caffeine pills are a relatively cost-effective alternative to drinking a few cups of coffee; one 200 mg pill is equivalent to the caffeine in around 2 strong cups of coffee and comes in with a price tag of around 10 cents. That's a lot more appealing for many people than the $10 spent on one mochafrappadopiofrenchitalianonionsccino.

That's great and all, but some people want to take it a step further and have more precise control over their caffeine intake (rather than being stuck to 200mg pills). That's where anhydrous caffeine, aka powdered caffeine, comes in. The benefits of anhydrous caffeine is that you have more control over your caffeine intake, and the cost goes down quite a bit. Let's say you're a fiend and you ingest 3x200 mg pills a day (that's kind of a lot). $23 dollars worth of anhydrous caffeine will fuel your addiction for roughly 2.5 years - that is, each 200mg supplement will come out to roughly 0.7 cents.

Wow, cool! Cheap drugs! Yay!

So here's the catch. A relatively small amount of caffeine can kill you. 

By a relatively small amount, I mean that if you took a normal spoon, got about half-a-spoon's worth of caffeine on it, then proceeded to eat that, then you're probably going to start feeling the overdose within ten minutes. The world is going to spin out of control, and you're probably going to start vomiting very shortly after that. It's actually a very terrible way to die, and unfortunately there's relatively a lot of people dying from it. 

Oh, numbers. Because science. The exact amount of caffeine needed to kill you differs - some cases have involved around 5 grams of caffeine, while others speculate that it's around 10 grams. Here's a link on that. 

You have probably all been in chem lab, and measured stuff out on the scales. Let's refresh your memory: 200mg of caffeine is roughly enough to fit as a little pyramid on a dime. You could probably fit 400mg on a dime without any issues. This is a terrible way to demonstrate mass, but you get the point.

As a result, a lot of companies such as are removing anhydrous caffeine from their website due to all the legal issues and whatnot. I thought the latter was relatively interesting as it's one of the only examples in which supplements have been pulled from a market (albeit for legal-safety in this scenario).

There was a lot of negative feedback towards anhydrous caffeine sellers because of the lack of "safety warnings" and whatnot on the packaging. Many others argue that "you should have had an idea of what you were getting into" when purchasing anhydrous caffeine, although that statement is a bit ignorant to the fact that not everyone is aware of the dangers, despite there being numerous warnings on anhydrous caffeine packages and websites. 

There's a large community of people that use anhydrous caffeine and are a bit bugged by the inconvenience of Amazon and other websites pulling anhydrous caffeine because "it's not difficult to measure out." You can get a $10 milligram scale that can accurately measure out 200mg of caffeine.

tl;dr People are dying because they are overdosing on powdered caffeine. Websites such as have been removing listings for this supplement due to legal concerns. There's also a lot of uproar because of the lack of "safety notices" on the caffeine packages. 

No comments: