Two years ago, 24-year-old Wade Sweatt tried powdered caffeine for the first time. Immediately after his first dose, he told his wife he felt sick. Then he went into cardiac arrest.
In the days following, Wade had several more heart attacks, went into a coma, and was declared brain dead. His parents had to take him off life support. His family, and the family of another young man who died from ingesting powdered caffeine, are petitioning the FDA to ban the substance, the Daily Beast reported.
The FDA has taken some action. They issued warnings about powdered caffeine and sent letters to companies selling it; they’ve since stopped, ABC News reported. A handful of states ban it, but the FDA has stopped short of enacting that measure.
And for the grieving parents of Wade, and Logan Stiner, it’s not enough. Logan was days away from graduation when he died of an overdose of powdered caffeine. His mother, Kate, had never heard of it.
“We didn’t know how much of it was circulating around, didn’t know what it was, never heard of it, and we thought we were pretty in the know.”
Powdered caffeine is far more concentrated than what can be found in a cup of coffee or chocolate bar. It’s fairly easy to get, cheap, and extremely dangerous. People take it for added stimulation or because they believe bogus claims that it can help them lose weight. It’s sometimes marketed as a health supplement.
The substance can be purchased as a powder, liquid, or inhaler. A single teaspoon is about the same as drinking 28 cups of coffee at the same time, and one of its primary dangers, besides the lack of warning labels, is the fact that it’s very easy to take too much.
Manufacturers advise using their product “sparingly.” The recommended dosage for one brand is 1/32 of a teaspoon, which is half a “pinch” of salt. Another provided a quarter teaspoon tool to measure out the powder, but the dosage is actually one-third that amount.
And the packages provide an asinine number of dosages: one package that grabbed the FDA’s attention contained enough powdered caffeine to provide three people with one dosage a day for a century.
The physical effects are severe and swift. In large amounts, it can lead to vomiting and diarrhea, and an overdose can cause “rapid or dangerously erratic heartbeat, seizures, and death.”
The Regulatory Affairs Director of the Center for Science and the Public Interest, Laura MacCleery, is urging the FDA to do more to protect consumers.
“It is astonishing that a substance that is fatal for adults in the amount of two tablespoons is sold cheaply over the Internet as loose powder in large bags without clear warnings.”
Since Wade and Logan’s deaths, the FDA has reported no other fatalities. But the agency assures it’s still monitoring the product and is considering the “best path forward.”
Lawmakers and advocates have petitioned the FDA to ban powdered caffeine because the product can’t be consumed or sold safely. Ohio and Illinois have banned the product at the state level, and although the FDA has managed to get some companies to stop selling powdered caffeine, the substance is still available online.
MacCleery and the CSPI bought a bottle of liquid caffeine from South Korea after a “quick Google search.” It was enough to “kill nearly seven people.”
“We easily purchased large bags of pure powder sufficient to kill several dozen people, and a gallon jug of what looks like water but is actually a highly caffeinated liquid—a cup of which would be a fatal dose.”
The agency has yet to comment on the possibility of a future ban.
[Photo via Facebook/Sen. Richard Blumenthal]