Dangerous, legal drugs for teens

Many parents worry about their teens taking drugs, but what exactly is considered a drug? The drugs they often worry about are likely illicit ones such as marijuana, ecstasy and cocaine. However, the definition of a drug is a chemical substance, such as a narcotic or hallucinogen, that affects the central nervous system, causing changes in behaviour. That means a vast majority of substances that aren’t illegal can be classified as a drug.

In recent years the dangers of gasses found in aerosol cans have been made more known, but do you consider caffeine a drug? Do you try to protect your teens from energy drinks? After reading this article, you should.

When you think of an energy drink you probably think of it being like a soda; it can be found in the same section of the store, it’s carbonated, and its ingredients offer the benefit of being able to stay alert. Those witty advertisements probably come to mind and the sponsorships they have with professional athletes. Did you know these beverages are loaded not only with sugar but caffeine as well? You’re probably aware of the caffeine in an energy drink, but not how much is really packed into that can. That’s because nutrition labels are not legally required to display how much caffeine is in a drink. Some brands do this on their own, but they don’t display any warning signs or dangers of how high the caffeine is.

A Consumer Reports investigation found that many labels on these drinks were misleading or lying. The report tested 27 popular energy drinks. 11 of them provided no information about the caffeine content. Five of the 16 drinks that did contain information were found to be incorrect—they had more than 20% of the caffeine the label claimed to have. Only one had less than claimed, approximately 70 percent.

Unlike a cup of coffee that is natural, with the exception of cream and sugar, energy drinks are often filled with additives that are made to enhance the caffeine. They claim to be healthy but really aren’t. Anything that is a vitamin has to be good for you, right? Too much of something can actually be harmful, that includes B3 and B6 vitamins which some drinks contain high amounts of. When consumed in excess it can lead to skin conditions, gastrointestinal problems, nerve damage and vision issues. Low blood pressure can be caused by too much taurine being consumed. Ginseng, gingko biloba, and guarana can actually be dangerous when mixed with caffeine and sugar—they can cause high blood pressure, heart palpitations, headaches, fatigue, insomnia, swelling, dehydration and kidney failure.

Just like pop, these drinks are packed full of sugar, sometimes upwards of 20 teaspoons! Graham MacGregor, Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at Queen Mary University of London and chairman of Action on Sugar, told the Daily Mail, “Children are being deceived into drinking large cans of this stuff, thinking they are going to improve their performance at school, during sports, or even on a night out. In reality, all they are doing is increasing their risk of developing obesity or type 2 diabetes which will have lifelong implications on their health. Type 2 diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, limb amputation and kidney dialysis – hardly the image of a healthy, active person.”

An American government study released in 2013 showed that an alarming amount of people visited the ER due to energy drink consumption. The number had doubled over a four year period. According to the article from CBS News, “Several emergency physicians said they had seen a clear uptick in the number of patients suffering from irregular heartbeats, anxiety and heart attacks who said they had recently downed an energy drink.” Most of the cases were young adults and teens.

Throughout the years, a handful of teens’ deaths have been linked to energy drink consumption. A 16-year-old Arizona teen died while on vacation in Mexico. She had only drunk energy drinks and complained about feeling unwell before suffering a fatal heart attack. Another 16-year-old died in 2017 due to a caffeine-induced cardiac event causing a probable arrhythmia after drinking a cafe latte, a large Diet Mountain Dew and an energy drink over a two hour period.

While it’s impossible to stop your teen from accessing these beverages, it’s possible to educate them about the dangers. If they’re going to consume an energy drink encourage them to make smart decisions like reading the nutrition label to see what they’re going to be putting into their body. Take a look at the sugar in a can, often times they’re very high. Pick one that has about 100mg of caffeine, about the same amount of caffeine found in a cup of coffee.