Caffeine has been damned for causing mental and physical problems. Maybe there is one serious mental disorder that it does cause — caffeine paranoia, the irrational, intense fear of caffeine.
Four Loko, a modestly potent malt alcoholic drink with a bit of caffeine added, has been banned in New York as “potentially deadly” and has also been banned or is under attack in a number of other states. Fueling the fans of paranoid fire, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) stated, without any reasonable basis for its claim, that “caffeine is an unsafe food additive” when mixed with an alcoholic drink.
Before the bans forcing the manufacturers to eliminate its caffeine content, Four Loko was sold in a 23.5-ounce can containing 12 percent alcohol content by volume and 135 milligrams of caffeine. Assuming that the can provided two servings, each serving of Four Loko supplied the equivalent to the alcohol content in about two beers and about a third of the caffeine in a typical cup of filter drip coffee.
Uninformed people such as Jenny McKee, health educator at the Wellness Resource Center at Watkins Memorial Health Center, have stated that mixing alcohol and caffeine can be fatal! McKee’s screwy thinking is based on her observation that, while caffeine is a stimulant, alcohol is a depressant. Therefore, concludes McKee with voodoo logic, “the combination could potentially be heart stopping.” Jumping on the bug-a-boo bandwagon, some have claimed students were hospitalized and a man filed a lawsuit, claiming a psychotic episode was induced, after drinking the dreaded product.
But stop for a minute and consider: Have you ever known anyone to down a couple beers or a shot of scotch and then drink as much as a third of cup of coffee? Or have you ever heard of people enjoying a cup or two of Irish coffee, which is a shot of Irish whiskey added to a full cup of coffee? Can you possibly believe that a person who consumed these drinks would suffer mental and physical damage from drinking these beverages? Can you for an instant imagine that anyone could actually die as a consequence of downing such drinks?
The fury over Four Loko is so much stuff and nonsense. It is just one more example of a long history of outbreaks of caffeine paranoia, a mental illness that causes legislators, do-gooders, phoney health “experts,” and their mindless followers to band together to brand a harmless product as seriously dangerous and eliminate it from the marketplace, all because it contains caffeine.
Caffeine paranoia began in 1511 with Kha’ir Beg, the Meccan police chief who banned coffee and shut down the first cafés in the world because of the hazards he fantasized were posed by the stimulating power of coffee. Fortunately for the Islamic community of the day, the Sultan of Cairo, Beg’s royal master, disagreed and reversed Beg’s decision. But as the nonsensical furor over Four Loko proves, the long shadow of Kha’ir Beg’s fearful, intolerant spirit still haunts us today.