Coffee Inhalers: The New Club Drug?

Getting your caffeine fix is now as easy as taking a deep breath, thanks to a controversial new airborne energy product called AreoShot. Critics, however, fear that it will be used as a club drug to allow young people to drink until they drop, and could have other health risks.

Created by a Harvard professor, AeroShot is now on the market in New York and Massachussetts, typically at convenience stores, and is also available in France and online. Each lipstick-sized canister costs $2.99 and contains 100 mg of caffeine powder, the equivalent of a cup of coffee, plus B vitamins.

The powder’s creator, biomedical engineering professor David Edwards, says the product is safe, but US Senator Charles Schumer of New York is calling for a FDA review of the now-unregulated energy product. Edwards, however, dismisses fears that inhaling caffeine might be harmful as “a bit of hysteria” and “the knee-jerk reaction” to anything new, according to USA Today.

So is there any cause for concern? Here’s a look.

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How does AreoShot work?

Lift the inhaler to your lips and it delivers a whiff of calorie-free, lemon-lime flavored powder that instantly dissolves in your mouth. Each container has up to six puffs. Users say that the blast of caffeine perks up mood and energy much faster than downing a cup of Joe.

Is inhaling caffeine bad for your lungs?

Although AeroShot is promoted as “inhaled,” actually, the airborne energy particles coat the inside of your mouth and back of the throat, then are swallowed, Massachusetts General Hospital reports. The particles dissolve quickly and are reportedly too large to reach the lungs.

What’s behind the worry that AreoShot will become a club drug?

Critics fear that hard-partying college students and club devotees will combine quick airborne fixes of caffeine with nights of binge drinking, in much the same way that students began guzzling caffeine-packed alcoholic beverages known as a “blackout in a can” a few years ago.

The FDA recently warned four companies that caffeine in their alcoholic malt liquor was an “unsafe food additive” and threatened possible seizure of their products. Combining caffeine with alcohol can be dangerous because people may not realize how intoxicated they are, leading to such life-threatening risks as alcohol poisoning and drunken driving.

However, Edwards says the company isn’t targeting youths under 18 and all the product does is put caffeine in your mouth, just like coffee. The company’s website says the product is aimed at making it easier for people to get a caffeine jolt in settings that are inconvenient for consuming liquids, such as airline travel or studying in the library, and delivers quick energy during sports.

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Can you overdose on inhaled caffeine?

"You want those 10 cups of coffee, it will probably take you a couple hours to get through all that coffee with all that volume that you are drinking," Lisa Ganijhu, MD, an internist at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City, told ABC News. "With these inhaled caffeine canisters you can get that in 10 of those little canisters — so you just puff away and you could be getting all of that within the hour."

However, the packaging warns people not to consume more than three AreoShots a day, well within the safe range for caffeine consumption. According to Massachusetts General Hospital, you’d have to consume about 80 inhalers (8,000 mg. of caffeine) to risk death by caffeine, since such a massive amount could cause a dangerous heartbeat abnormality called ventricular fibrillation.

What’s a safe amount of caffeine?

Three cups of coffee or three AeroShots deliver about 300 mg. of caffeine, considered a moderate, safe intake. Amounts above 750 to 1,000 mg. a day can be risky, due to the potential for “caffeine intoxication,” marked by such symptoms as anxiety, facial flushing, rapid or irregular heartbeat, impaired judgment, GI upset and insomnia.

Heavy caffeine use has also been linked to such addictions as smoking, gambling and heavy drinking, and can temporarily raise blood pressure. Moderate coffee intake, however, has many health perks, including reducing risk for cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, dementia, certain forms of cancer, and Parkinson’s disease, along with improvements in memory, alertness, and attention span.

Are AreoShots FDA-approved?

Inhaled caffeine isn’t regulated by the FDA, so no one is checking to make sure that AreoShot actually contains the amount of caffeine and ingredients listed on the label.  Edwards says that, unlike energy drinks, the product doesn’t contain additives like taurine, a controversial amino acid—banned in some countries—that  boosts the effects of caffeine.

What’s the bottom line on AreoShots?

If you use this product, stick to the recommended limit of three AreoShots per day. A new federal report found a huge surge in emergency room visits among people who consume highly caffeinated energy drinks, sold under such brand names as Red Bull, Monster, and Full Throttle, with more than 13,000 Americans a year requiring ER treatment for side effects, and at least four documented deaths.

Because AreoShot contains a lower amount of caffeine than energy drinks typically do, and lacks the sugar and additives typically packed into these potentially hazardous beverages, Massachusetts General Hospital says that a few whiffs of inhaled caffeine are unlikely to be harmful.

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