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What's Next for Lokovores? Does the FDA Ban on Four Loko Mean Caffeine is the Next Big Tobacco?

Four Loko. It was alcoholic. It was caffeinated. And now it's gone. But does anyone really understand what it's doing to our brains? Nope.

The Four Lokovore movement burned fast and hard this fall. Now the party's over. The FDA has called for an all-out ban beginning today, which may do little except add to the boozy caffeinated beverage's outlaw image. Trust me, this isn't just the end to a frivolous party on the fringe.

Apparently, you don't even have to combine energy drinks and alcohol in the same cup to reap the crazy health effects. Amelia Arria, a researcher at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, analyzed data from the College Life Survey. She found that even college students who said they drank nonalcoholic energy drinks were twice as likely to develop alcohol dependencies—and appeared boozed it up more frequently and in greater amounts.

The even bigger mystery is what happens in the brain when you mix two addictive substances. In a study (no joke) entitled, "Clubgoers and their trendy cocktails," researchers came to this inconclusive conclusion: "[Our] results highlight the complexity of drug interactions between alcohol and caffeine."

So little is known about caffeine and our addiction to the chemical. And one Australian researcher, Jack James, has even called into question the basic pharmacology of coffee. James says caffeine does not have positive stimulating effects. It merely blocks the brain's ability to sleep. This means we're going to have to reconsider what we thought we knew about caffeine, and also, as he told All in the Mind, reconsider how we regulate caffeinated drinks.

[I]t's almost as if the tobacco industry wrote the manual that the caffeine industry has subsequently employed, because it's gone through many of the same kinds of phases in positioning itself with regard to public policy... I think the industry focus on children and adolescents is beginning to have a backlash and the FDA's interest in energy drinks is likely to be in part attributable to concern about these drinks being marketed to children. So this focus on promoting new users, just as the tobacco industry did with its products, is probably going to increasingly attract the concern of authorities and will focus some attention on caffeine.


Maybe it's not just Four Loko, after all.

Photograph ©Amelia Merrick used with permission. Follow her on Flickr at Wings Of Grey.

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