Rethinking Healthcare

Four Loko tests the limits on two legal drugs

Four Loko tests the limits on two legal drugs

Posting in Government

After the publicity dies down I do expect some espresso-and-shot parties to start happening.

Four Loko is definitely in the government's cross hairs and the FDA has yelled fire. The maker of the drink, Phusion Products, has promised to take the caffeine out of it.

But why, cry the masses? Both alcohol and caffeine are perfectly legal. Are you going to ban Irish coffee next? Tell convenience stores that instead of giving coffee to inebriates they should refuse service?

Say the druggies, let me get some of that while it's still around. Says reporter John Biggs (right), how about if I drink two of those bad boys in a single hour and let people watch me do it online!

Even before finishing one can he looked pretty wasted. (This is a partial screen grab from his UStream feed.) He wound up drinking one can while responding verbally to Twitter jabs at his sweater. I watched so you didn't have to.

The problem here is just how much of both drugs is in one drink.

A single can of Four Loko contains 260 milligrams of caffeine and is 12 percent alcohol by volume. That's nearly 20 ounces of sake (which is 14 percent alcohol) combined with more than two cups of very strong coffee. In one can. Which you're supposed to chug down because (as Biggs notes) it tastes nasty.

The combination hasn't been tested in people scientifically, which is one reason the FDA is acting so quickly. The alcohol makes you feel drunk, the caffeine makes you feel wide awake, the stuff tastes nasty so you drink it quickly, and if you're with friends who want you to drink more...you get the idea.

Now it's true that if you line up three strong espressos and, say, three shots of whiskey, then chug them all in an hour you can duplicate the effect. But are you going to drive home afterward?

Which is the heart of this problem.  People drink this stuff and think that because they haven't passed out they're sober. Then they go out and do stupid things, because they're young. And they wind up dead.

So after the publicity dies down I do expect some espresso-and-shot parties to start happening. But if I have the espresso and you take the shots I can drive you home. Or I can do both and you drive.

Just learn your limit, which is something Four Loko, by itself, doesn't appear able to do.

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Dana Blankenhorn

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Dana Blankenhorn has written for the Chicago Tribune, Advertising Age's "NetMarketing" supplement and founded the Interactive Age Daily for CMP Media. He holds degrees from Rice and Northwestern universities. He is based in Atlanta. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure