Four Loko proves dangerous among students

By Jenica Chandran
On October 28, 2010

Nine students at Central Washington University in Ellensberg, Washington were hospitalized due to consumption of the popular alcoholic energy drink Four Loko. In the police report [http://bit.ly/4Loko2+], one female student admitted to drinking Four Loko and police found several large cans of Four Lokos lying around the house. The hospitalized students had blood alcohol levels ranging between .12 and .35. Any blood alcohol content higher than .30 is considered possibly fatal. A 23.5-ounce can of Four Loko can have an alcohol by volume rate of either 6 or 12 percent, depending on the regulation of the state that it's sold in.

Some of the effects of Four Loko and other alcoholic energy drinks on consumers have been severe. Hofstra freshman Anna Mikalef commented on the matter, "I knew a friend who drank a can and a half of Four Loko and after that I couldn't handle her so I had to have public safety take her home." Four Loko is sold at various locations around the University's campus including Citgo, Stop n' Shop and Subway on Hempstead Turnpike.

Several colleges and universities have scrutinized the drink, and some states have even considering having the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ban it altogether. The Associated Press reported a story [http://bit.ly/4Loko3+] on Ramapo College in Mahwah, New Jersey where all caffeinated alcoholic beverages were banned after 23 students were hospitalized for alcoholic intoxication. The story does not signify that Four Lokos were the only drink consumed, but the reason for banning it was because administrators feared the consumption would lead to a "blackout in a can." Some media reports have linked Four Loko to the anti-gay beating in New York City earlier this month, where police found 10 cans of the drink at the scene.

Many people on the blogosphere have been raving about Four Loko. Somebodysblues, a blogger on Tumblr, said, "I drink Four Loko and enjoy it, but I can definitely understand how it can cause problems because it's so strong. Definitely not a drink you should be chugging." [http://bit.ly/4Loko4+]

This incident is not the first time that an alcoholic energy drink has received backlash. In 2008 Anheuser Busch Company ceased its distribution of their alcoholic energy drink, Tilt and Bud Extra, after they found out about its illegal supply to underage drinkers. Later that year, Miller Brewing Company, the distributor of a similar alcoholic energy drink called Sparks stopped its allocation of the drink after being sued by a consumer advocacy group in the state of Washington for its unapproved additives.

The four ingredients that make up Four Loko - and contribute to its name - are caffeine, alcohol, guarana, and taurine. Caffeine improves alertness and mental performance in people who are sleep-deprived, it increases blood pressure and heart rate, and alters sleep methods. Alcohol can cause mood swings, disorientation, possible vomiting, and bad decision-making habits. But many students are unaware of the last two products named in Four Loko's contents: guarana and taurine. 

A popular fat loss website, thefatlossauthority.com, considers guarana is considered a "coffee bean on steroids." According to WebMD [http://bit.ly/4Loko7+], coffee has about 2% of caffeine by weight while guarana has about 6% to 7%. It is one of the highest concentrations of caffeine on the market. The long-term effects of guarana and caffeine are similar, "psychological dependence" being one of them. Dependence leads to what some students call "a caffeine addiction". 

Another ingredient, taurine, has natural effects. It is found in breast milk, meat, and fish. According to an article [http://bit.ly/4Loko8+ ] posted by Mayo Clinic's nutritionist Katherine Zeratsky, 3,000 milligrams of supplemental taurine is considered safe. It is also available as a dietary supplement. Despite its natural uses, taurine is also considered an inhibitory: the amino acid is used in suppressing epilepsy and anesthetics.

There have not been enough studies conducted to show the definite long-term effects of these caffeine-related ingredients, but it is possible that the newfound media buzz pertaining to this subject will hopefully initiate more in-depth research.

Four Loko's creators, Phusion Projects LLC, released a statement expressing that though they are upset that many students have been abusing the drink, banning Four Loko will not prevent students from abusing other alcoholic or alcoholic energy products, "Making college campuses safe and healthy environments for learning is a goal we share with administrators – even those who have chosen to ban our products. However, we also know that curbing alcohol abuse on college campuses will not be accomplished by singling out a lone product or beverage category."

Hofstra Senior Josh Zager agrees, "There are other combinations of alcohol that you can make. It's all about knowing how much you can drink and what you are drinking."

Phusion also defended their product, saying the drink was not the "primary" problem in the situation involving the nine Central Washington students, "…While our product is mentioned only twice in the 44-page police report, hard liquor, vodka, rum or other alcohol is mentioned at least 19 times; beer is mentioned at least 3 times; and illegal drugs or roofies are mentioned at least 14 times."

"It's more of an idea of responsibility than having the government regulate what you can and can't do and what you can and can't drink." said Zager.

The FDA has been researching into alcoholic energy drinks for the past year, but have yet to release any new findings.


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