What is caffeine powder? Can it kill you?

A common caffeine supplement much like the one that caused Logan Steiner's overdose. Note the recommended dosage.

A common caffeine supplement much like the one that caused Logan Steiner’s overdose. Note the recommended dosage.


What is caffeine powder? Can it kill you? These are just some of the questions being asked in the wake of the shocking death of an Ohio teen.

Logan Steiner died of cardiac arrhythmia and a seizure just days before he was set to become prom king. He was eighteen years old, a wrestler on the high school team, and in good physical shape. But the LaGrange, Ohio coroner has ruled that the cause of his arrhythmia and seizure was the massive dose of caffeine found in his bloodstream.

Steiner’s mother found bags of caffeine powder in her son’s room after his death. And the substance–which, because it’s labeled as a supplement, is not regulated by the FDA–is obtained easily on the internet and in sporting goods stores.

Said coroner Stephen Evans, “That’s a very dangerous situation and I think it needs to be regulated better.”

Most such bags list a recommended dose of 250 milligrams, or one-sixteenth of a teaspoon. But 250 milligrams of caffeine is the equivalent of three Red Bulls.

Just one teaspoon of pure caffeine, then, is the equivalent of forty-eight Red Bulls introduced into the human body simultaneously.

Evans reported the level of caffeine in Steiner’s system at 70 micrograms per milliliter of blood. By comparison, a single cup of coffee generally results in levels of 3 to 5 micrograms per milliliter.

Bruce Goldberger, director of toxicology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, points out that levels of vulnerability will differ from person to person:

It is very difficult to predict one’s response to caffeine. Some people are more sensitive than others. Therein lies the problem. If someone has an undiagnosed medical condition, they may ingest caffeine not knowing it may have a deleterious effect, such as a cardiac arrhythmia, hypertension or anxiety.

For its part, the FDA has said it’s “repeatedly voiced concern about products with high concentrations of caffeine,” and will monitor the unregulated powders as best it can. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 gives the FDA the power to regulate some “misbranding and adulteration” of supplements, but not to control the ingredients or proportions of ingredients themselves.

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