Sci would like to note that I’m writing this post while I’m sipping my first cup of coffee for the day. Irony, thy name is caffeine addiction.
So the other day I was out with my running partner, and she mentioned that someone had DIED from caffeine overdose. At first, I thought it must have been a Redbull and vodka thing, but nope. PURE CAFFINE. I got a copy of the article, but then Mo tweeted about it and I knew I had to blog it, at least a little.
First off, that was a really stupid thing to do. But the second question is WHY. A lot of people were very confused. And so I figured, being caffeine’s patron saint like I am, I gotta tell you that this stimulant is a double edged sword.
But it’s still a lot of fun to wear. 🙂 And nice to drink. Just…not in insane quantities.
The fact is, a lot of things can kill you if you take enough of them. Alcohol is one of the most well known examples, nicotine is another (most people think long term, but you can actually die from large acute doses, which are very toxic). Heck, you can die of too much Tylenol!
But today we’re talking about caffeine. Overdoses on caffeine are REALLY rare. This is mostly because, in the way we take it normally, you wouldn’t have time to take enough before the side effects (shakiness, paranoia, anxiety, racing heart, high blood pressure, etc) were enough to make you stop. And the fact is, it takes a LOT of caffeine to kill a guy, and most of the time we take it in very small doses. For example, the average cup of coffee contains between 80 and 200 MILLIGRAMS of caffeine. An average caffeine pill contains 100 (or 200 for extra strength). Because the numbers are in the hundreds, that sounds like a lot, but it’s not. 200 milligrams is actually around 0.025 teaspoons of caffeine (going by the conversion of one teaspoon being about 5 grams dry weight of substance, but I’m not sure that’s accurate).
Suffice it to say that the guy who died from the overdose didn’t know enough about what he was taking. You can BUY powdered caffeine on the internet, but it also comes with a clearly stated dose of taking no MORE than 1/16 of a teaspoon. That’s going to be one heck of a buzz, but not deadly. This man either didn’t see the label (very likely), or wasn’t sure how potent caffeine is (also likely). The news articles say he took two large spoon fulls (and then washed it down with an energy drink), which may be as much as 20 grams (if they were tablespoons, not teaspoons). That’s a LOT. Several hundred times the normal dose. I’m not going to go into the heavy pharm (it’s only my second cup of coffee right now), but that’s a LOT. The lethal dose in rats is 192 milligrams per kilogram, and let’s say the guy weighed 200 lbs or 90 kilos. He would have to take 17,280 milligrams, which is about 17.2 grams. However, that’s NOT taking into account the fact that humans are very different from rats and metabolize drugs, in general, MIUCH more slowly, which means we can die from much lower doses. Overdoses in humans (requiring hospitalization, but not death) have been seen with doses of only 2 grams.
But what I want to go into here is: what did he die OF?! Well, probably heart issues. People near him observed him vomiting blood and sweating profusely. Caffeine has very strong effects on the heart and blood vessels. Even a cup of coffee increases blood pressure and causes constriction of blood vessels in the brain (though it’s minor). In the heart, caffeine increases heart rate, partially by acting as a mimic of the transmitter epinephrine. Death by caffeine (seen in animals) is usually caused by something called ventribular fibrillation. This is where the ventricles of the heart lose their rhythm and stop pulling together. You get uncoordinated contractions, and the whole thing stops pumping and looks like a quivering mass.
Obviously this is not very effective at, you know, getting blood places. Like the brain, or the lungs. Or anywhere else important. Death results. You can sometimes use a defibrillator to shock the heart back into a normal rhythm, but of course in order to do that, you have to know what’s going on and have them handy. But who’s going to know that at a party?
Poor guy. He didn’t know. But now YOU know. Caffeine IS safe in small doses (caffeine pills, cups of coffee, etc). But know your dosing.
This gets to something that bugs Sci a lot, actually. It’s one of the reasons I started blogging, and one of the reasons that I feel so strongly about getting the word out about drugs and their effects. Sci was doing outreach to a bunch of middle schoolers one day. She was telling them about various things they wanted to know (I usually just ask what they want to know, they have a lot more fun than if I give a lecture). I’m very honest about what drugs can do, what we know from the science, etc. And one girl asked about a drug, I don’t remember what it was (might have been meth), but it made my eyebrows shoot straight up to my hairline. She came up to me privately afterward, and nervously confessed that she had done some of it, and was she going to die? Was it ok? Her boyfriend just gave it to her and she just…y’know…
And I got SO MAD. Not AT her, obviously. But at the people who kept her ignorant, who gave her drugs without telling her what they were. Who made her feel like she should take them. I told her “you have a RIGHT to know what goes into your body. Whether it’s food, or drugs, or anything else. It’s YOUR body and you have a RIGHT to know what it is, and what it may do to you.” She looked so shocked. It clearly had never occurred to her that she had a right, indeed she owed it to herself, to know what she was putting in to her body. And then she asked how she could do what I do when she grew up. I might have teared up a little.
So, when you’re at a party, and you’re doin’ whatever (and that’s not for me to determine), you should KNOW what you’re doing. Know what you’re taking. Know what it will do. And I’m not talking about what your friends say it will do. Look it up, and learn to tell the difference between what’s good information and what’s not. You need to know what drugs will do to you, it’s why prescription drugs come with huge long lists of side effects and drug effects and etc, etc, so you can read it, and know what you’re taking.
But a cup of coffee is probably still ok.