Tragic Deaths Highlight the Dangers of Powdered Pure Caffeine

By Michael M. Landa

On Tuesday, Dec. 9, my colleagues and I met with the parents of two young men who died after using powdered pure caffeine.

Michael M. LandaLogan James Stiner, an 18-year-old high school senior, prom king and athlete just days away from graduation, died on May 27, 2014 at his Ohio home after taking powdered pure caffeine. On June 24, 24-year-old James Wade Sweatt of Georgia, newly married and a recent graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, died after being in a coma caused by his use of powdered pure caffeine.

Their parents spoke with us about how both young men were healthy, intelligent, and careful about what they put in their bodies.

They learned, and shared with us, that Logan and Wade both thought this form of caffeine would be a safe way to get an energy boost. Both were able to obtain it cheaply and easily. Wade had sought out the product as a way to avoid the added sugar and sodium associated with soda or energy drinks. He had even downloaded a conversion chart to try to calculate the right dose to take.

Katie and Dennis Stiner, and Julie and James Sweatt, came to the FDA in hopes of sparing other families this terrible loss.

We share that goal. That’s why, after learning of Logan’s death, the FDA posted a consumer advisory warning of the dangers of consuming powdered pure caffeine.  Symptoms of caffeine overdose include rapid or erratic heartbeat and seizures.

We are working right now on our next steps. In the meantime, I cannot say strongly enough how important it is to avoid using powdered pure caffeine. The people most drawn to it are our children, teenagers, and young adults, especially students who want to work longer to study, athletes who want to improve their performance, and others who want to lose weight.

The powdered pure caffeine that the Stiners and Sweatts brought to show us—readily available for purchase online—was packaged in the same way as protein powder and marketed as a source of energy, rather than a stimulant. The reality is that these products are 100 percent caffeine, with a single teaspoon roughly the equivalent to the amount in 25 cups of coffee. Pure caffeine is a powerful stimulant and even very small amounts may cause an accidental overdose.

Our hearts go out to the Stiner and Sweatt families, and we appreciate their efforts to protect others from harm. As regulators, and parents ourselves, we take this threat to public health very seriously and are committed to protecting young people like Logan and Wade, and all consumers, from the dangers inherent in the use of powdered pure caffeine.

Michael M. Landa is the Director of FDA’s Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition

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