Friday, November 19, 2010

4Loko - dropping some science

Four Loko has been ALL OVER THE NEWS LATELY - due to the danger of mixing alcohol plus caffeine. Pressure from the FDA has prompted the company to remove caffeine (and taurine) from the product - which contains as much alcohol as a bottle of wine.

This is of course not before many states and universities have banned the beverage altogether.

How are caffeinated beverages mixed with alcohol so unsafe? Well, the short story is that at some point we all recognize that we are intoxicated - and stop drinking. Alcohol is a drug unique in its ability to be both stimulating and sedating - properties referred to as the "biphasic effects of alcohol." At first- you have a few drinks and you feel pretty great! You are talking to people, feel less inhibited socially, and maybe dance a bit. As alcohol intake becomes excessive, we begin to feel sedated. Usually, individuals recognize this and stop drinking - or at least pass out.

When mixed with large amounts of caffeine - alcohol no longer seems to sedating at high doses- meaning individuals continue to drink well past the point of intoxication while maintaining a perception of minimal impairment. You essentially have a "wide awake drunk" who can effectively make more money for the alcohol companies by consuming more alcohol than they normally could - who also puts others in danger by not perceiving their own intoxication - and puts their own selves at risk by drinking to levels of toxicity. And doing really STUPID THINGS.

Since I am an alcohol researcher - I felt it was only fair that I sample this beverage while it is still legal in NC to experience for myself what all the hype was about - kind of Albert Hoffman style.

Well let me tell you- the drink is cheap - only about $2.99! It came in some tasty sounding flavors- I chose fruit punch because it sounded the least puke-inducing. I felt GREAT while I was drinking it. The Polish in me came out right away by changing my cheeks to BRIGHT red.

I was giggly and generally happy.... then I just crashed. I was so tired I could barely stand it. This is probably because of the high alcohol content and my sensitivity to the sedating properties of alcohol.

So please, don't attempt at home! Unless you like drinking cough-syrup-ish flavors. Mmmm.

RIP Four Loko - though I hope though shalt provide me with a wealth of post doc opportunities if the science swings this way!

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