Are energy drinks poison?

Courtney Dickson, Arts & Entertainment Editor Ω

I recently heard a couple arguing, as a man criticized his girlfriend for busting out an energy drink, calling it poison.

Courtney Dickson, Arts & Entertainment Editor Ω

Courtney Dickson, Arts & Entertainment Editor Ω

So that got me thinking: Is the amount of caffeine in an energy drink enough to call it poison?

The amount of caffeine found in a can of Red Bull is approximately 76 mg, which is a little less than average for most popular energy drink brands. A can of Pepsi has about half of that. Though coffee and tea often contain more than that (though this varies based on brewing practices) 76 mg isn’t a small number.

Health Canada recommends an absolute maximum of 400 mg of caffeine per day, but that varies based on height, weight and age. So while 76 out of 400 seems like very little, chances are you fall beneath that limit of how much you can healthily consume so that number increases. Then, of course, you have to account for the chocolate, medicine and other sources of caffeine you use in a day to get a definitive answer as to how much you’re consuming.

Suddenly 76 mg doesn’t sound so bad, but some are finding reasons to agree with the man who referred to energy drinks as poison.

The Toronto Star’s David Bruser landed on a story about energy drinks in 2012 while working on another investigative series. While reading reports by Health Canada, Bruser found that at least three teen deaths had potentially been caused by consumption of energy drinks.

In an Aug. 13 Globe and Mail column by Dr. Michael Dickinson, a reader asked about potential risks associated with allowing teenagers to consume energy drinks. Dickinson stated that a more appropriate name for energy drinks is “stimulant drunk containing” drink. He also said moderated amounts of caffeine are tolerated in adults, but can be addictive and lead to withdrawal.

While it is common practice to mix alcohol with energy drinks, it is particularly condemned by Dickinson. By mixing the two, he said the chances of serious side effects and alcohol poisoning increase greatly.

While Canadian papers The Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star investigated energy drink use mainly in adolescents, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis published a story in January 2013 about how adults are affected by energy drinks. In 2011, more than 20, 000 adults in the U.S. visited the emergency room due to energy drink-related symptoms.

The common side effects of energy drinks include insomnia (which, for those intending to stay wide awake to study, doesn’t seem so bad), heart palpitations, nausea, anxiety and headaches.

So, while the numbers say the amount of caffeine in energy drinks is probably normal as long as that’s the only caffeine a person consumes in a day, reports of death by energy drink imply that energy drinks could be just as deadly as poison.

School is exhausting. It seems pretty easy to stay up all night working on a paper and just stop at the gas station and buy an energy drink to get through the day. If you need to crack open a can to get by, be mindful of how you are feeling and monitor the amount of caffeine you consume. Paying attention to what your body is telling you could save your life.