Teen's Caffeine Death Raises Debate Over Regulation of Drug

By Shawn Dwyer 08/05/14

An Ohio teen was days away from graduating high school with honors when he died from ingesting too much powdered caffeine.

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The death of a high school prom king from pure caffeine has prompted a new look at the drug and whether it should be regulated or even banned.

Logan Steiner, a straight-A student and wrestling star, had reportedly earned a full academic scholarship to college. The Ohio native was found dead just three days before he was scheduled to graduate from high school and a bag of caffeine powder was later found at his house. His parents, Dennis and Kate Steiner, believed he may have been using the substance as part of his pre-workout regimen.

“[I thought] that couldn’t have killed him,” said Kate. “It’s caffeine.”

An autopsy later revealed that Logan had 23 times the amount of caffeine in his system as a typical coffee or soda drinker, enough to be fatal. Pure caffeine, sold by dozens of websites for about $12 per 100 grams, is not regulated and a single teaspoon is the equivalent of 25 cups of coffee. Excess caffeine intake can lead to symptoms that include irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms, and kidney failure.

A website called bulksupplements.com, which sells pure caffeine, has recommended not taking more than one-sixteenth of a teaspoon at a time, the equivalent of one Mountain Dew, and no more than three servings per day. The site also says they have “taken steps to educate our consumers about the effects of overdosing,” something that many are unaware is even possible to do with caffeine.

"In general, we're all surprised by caffeine being potentially deadly because we don't think of it that way," said Dr. J.J. Rasimas, a toxicologist with HealthPartners. "If there's too much of it, the heart can get so stimulated that it gets confused over the timing of the next beat. If the beat rhythm gets off, and if there's arrhythmia—is what we call it when the heart gets into a rhythm that's not working and pumping properly—it sets up a patient to die."

Incidents such as Logan’s have also led to debates about whether energy drinks should be regulated. Since 2007, hospital visits related to energy drinks have doubled.

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Shawn Dwyer is a writer, editor and content producer living in Los Angeles. You can find him on Linkedin.