Powdered caffeine poses poison risk for unaware users

WASHINGTON – There are new concerns about teens and powdered caffeine.

Poison experts say more and more adolescents are trying to boost workouts or balance school, jobs and sleep with homemade energy drinks made with caffeine powder.

The Food and Drug Administration is looking into these concerns and urging consumers to stay away from the stuff, which for now, is still sold in bulk online.

“The powdered caffeine that is out there is essentially 100 percent pure caffeine, and it is very dangerous,” says Dr. Erik Schobitz, medical director of the Pediatric Emergency Department at Shady Grove Adventist Hospital in Rockville.

He hasn’t seen any overdoses yet in his suburban ER. But Schobitz says but they are starting to show up nationwide — including the possible death of a high school wrestler in Ohio. He says he believes it is only a matter of time before local hospitals see an uptick in patients who have ingested far more caffeine than their body can handle.

And it isn’t hard to do with the powdered stuff. Just 1/32 of a teaspoon equals the caffeine in a cup of coffee. A full teaspoon equals 32 cups, or — too put it another way — drinking 10 Starbucks venti cups of coffee all at the same time.

“It is going to throw you into irritability, it’ll jack up your heart rate, raise your blood pressure,” says Schobitz, who adds “in certain people, it can cause seizures, strokes and death.”

He notes the label on one brand contains a warning in big, bold letters that powdered caffeine can be deadly if not used properly — a warning that could be ignored by teens putting scoops of the stuff in a blender for a high-energy smoothie.

Schobitz says as a physician who cares for children, he can’t understand why powdered caffeine remains so easily available

“We don’t want to be handing a teenager something that could provide lethal amounts of caffeine to when they are thinking they are just getting an energy supplement for working out or for studying,” he says.

A ban could be in the works. But until then, Schobitz urges parents to educate their kids about the dangers of too much caffeine. And he says anyone who notices the first signs of trouble should call the National Capital Poison Center Hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

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