Do you know you can get Cocaine at Amazon.com for $9.99 for a six-pack? You didn’t know that Cocaine came in six-packs? When it’s the energy drink being referred to, it certainly does.

Cocaine is one of several varieties of energy drinks; you might be more familiar with Red Bull, Rock Star or Monster. These drinks are loaded with caffeine and sugar and some contain ingredients like herbs and vitamins to make the consumer think they are healthy. Our teenagers (as well as older and younger folks) are downing these “cool” drinks at an increasing rate, and then living with the health consequences of being addicted to caffeine or worse.

These drinks contain anywhere from 140 to 280 mg. of caffeine per 16 oz. serving. A cup of regular coffee has from 80 – 175 mg depending on how it is brewed. According to Bruce A. Goldberger, a toxicologist at the University of Florida, “Caffeine may be the most widely used drug in the world, but certain people need to avoid it.” That category would include those with high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, certain anxiety disorders and pregnant women. The American College of Sports Medicine has warned high school athletes away from energy drinks because the caffeine may cause dehydration. Some student athletes have reported headaches and nausea after drinking them at practices.

“Caffeine’s effect at high doses is like having a chronic anxiety condition,” states Dr. James D. Lane, professor of medical psychology at Duke University. “It exaggerates the perception of stress and the body’s response to it, and I think it could be contributing to the stress we all experience in daily life.”

Is there a safe level of caffeine to consume each day? The American Medical Society (AMA) recommends no more than 300 mg a day for healthy adults. That’s about 3 cups of coffee, or just over one can of Cocaine, which has a whopping 280 mg of caffeine. The other component of these energy drinks is sugar. People vary in their response to this highly refined source of carbohydrates (bad carbs, if you follow some of the current weight loss lingo). The four energy drinks mentioned so far in this article have anywhere from 4.5 to 10 teaspoons of sugar per 8 oz. serving, and several come in cans that contain 16 ounces. The obesity epidemic in this country is partly fueled by over consumption of such highly caloric drinks.

A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics concluded that these drinks could be harmful for some children, especially those with ADHD, diabetes, seizures, psychological problems or heart disease. These products are not regulated by the FDA, which limits the amount of caffeine in regulated drinks (soda, etc) to 71 mg/12 oz. The energy drinks get around this regulation by putting the word “natural” on their label.

When these energy drinks are mixed with alcohol, the effects can be disastrous. According to Dr. Mary Claire O’Brien of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, “Students whose motor skills, visual reaction times and judgment are impaired by alcohol may not perceive that they are intoxicated as readily when they’re also ingesting a stimulant (caffeine). Only the symptoms of drunkenness are reduced – but not the drunkenness. They can’t tell if they’re drunk; they can’t tell if someone else is drunk. So they get hurt, or they hurt someone else.”

If you have children, please educate yourself about these drinks before you allow your child to consume them. If you have teens or young adults, it is even more important for them to know the consequences of mixing alcohol with this type of beverage. They think it’s fun and may have no idea what the consequences can be.

Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Hospital in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at pmaxson@noyes-hospital.org or 335-4327.