A 21-year-old guitarist, Lachlan, was found dead on the bathroom floor in his home in New South Wales, Australia, on New Year’s Day, a day before his 22nd birthday, after consuming one teaspoon of caffeine powder in his protein shake.
Many initially thought that he died due to an illicit drug overdose, but the coroner’s report showed that he actually died of caffeine toxicity, as the tests found no illicit substances.
He had only a few beers that night, but the teaspoon of caffeine he used was the energy equivalent of 50 cups of coffee, a dose that would send anyone into cardiac arrest.
This product is taken by athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and college students, to give an extra boost, and is also used as a diet supplement, but the recommended dose is one-sixteenth of a teaspoon.
After searching his computer and his bank statement, the police and his family still do not know how he got the caffeine powder, but his father said they believe he got it from a friend or work associate.
They believe someone else bought it and shared it, so Lachlan did not read the warning label on the packet. His father Nigel also says that he was surely unaware of its potency as he kept it in the kitchen, where everyone could have mistaken it for sugar and flour, and he would never endanger the family.
The last message he sent to his friends was a Facebook text the night he died at 2:07 am. :
“I think my protein powder has gone off, he wrote. Anyway… night lads. Cya in the morning.”
Pure caffeine powder is still legal and available in Australia, while it was banned in the US after it caused at least 2 deaths.
One of the American victims was Logan Stiner, a champion wrestler, and exemplary student from LaGrange. He died a few days before his high school graduation, after buying it online on Amazon and mixing it in his protein shake.
The family of Lachlan is now petitioning for Australia to ban the substance as well. Nigel, his father, warns other parents to talk to their children and protect them from this dangerous substance.
As caffeine is extremely popular in the Western world, and coffee shops are all around us, people are unaware of the toxic effects of this substance when used in increased amounts.
Steven E. Meredith, a postdoctoral research fellow at The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, claims that as a result of its widespread consumption, many of us forget that caffeine is a psychoactive substance, meaning that it is a drug that crosses the blood-brain barrier to stimulate the central nervous system.
He said that unlike most other psychoactive substances, its use is socially acceptable, and the drug is widely used. Caffeine is actually the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world.
Since most caffeine consumers use it regularly without apparent harm, we consider caffeine to be a benign substance that everyone can use without suffering any negative consequences.
It acts as a stimulant by activating the central nervous system, fights tiredness and improves concentration and focus. The University of Michigan Health Service reports that the stimulating effects of caffeine can start as early as 15 minutes after consumption and last up to 6 hours.
Despite coffee, numerous other drinks contain caffeine as well, including tea, soft drinks -- particularly energy drinks -- and chocolate. Caffeine can also be found in some prescription and non-prescription drugs, like cold, allergy and pain medication.
Caffeine overdose leads to numerous symptoms, including:
- Trouble breathing
- Irregular or fast heartbeat
- Uncontrollable muscle movements
- Chest pain
The increased intake of caffeine can cause:
- Jittery behavior
- A racing pulse
- Heart palpitations
- Stomach cramps
Yet, caffeine affects people differently, and while someone can experience some of these symptoms after a small cup of coffee, others need more just to feel awake.
Rob M. Van Dam, adjunct associate professor of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, claims that the effects of caffeine are dependent on each person’s genetic characteristics and lifestyle factors.
Meredith explains that caffeine metabolism is slower among infants, pregnant women, and individuals with liver disease. Moreover, some medications slow caffeine metabolism, which may elevate the risk for caffeine intoxication.
The excessive consumption of caffeine during the day can aggravate a predisposition to heart disease.
However, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported that the daily intake of 400 mg of caffeine, or about 4 cups of coffee,2 energy drinks, of 10 cans of soda, is unlikely to pose serious harm to most adults’ health.
If you are going to consume caffeine in any form, make sure you avoid pure caffeine powder, as it is very dangerous and comes with a high risk of misuse.
Even though Lachlan’s case is rare since it takes too much caffeine to be deadly, it is addictive, and caffeine dependence is quite common.
Withdrawal symptoms include depression, headaches, constipation, lack of focus, and mood swings.
However, deciding to quit caffeine intake is a great way to improve overall health.
The following tips will help you succeed:
- Reduce the caffeine intake gradually
- Sleep well to avoid the fatigue
- Drink plenty of water to remain hydrated and prevent fatigue and headaches
- Use natural energy-boosters to feel awake, like exercise, nutrient-dense foods, and stress-reduction techniques like meditation.