June 2018

Are some forms of caffeine more risky than others?

Yes. Some caffeine products are sold in very concentrated or pure forms. This makes it easy for people to accidentally take much more than they should. Concentrated liquid caffeine can contain about 2 grams of caffeine in a half cup. Powdered pure caffeine can contain about 3 grams of caffeine in just one teaspoon. Taking 10-14 grams of caffeine is likely to be fatal, but serious side effects can happen at lower doses.

Because of the high risk for misuse, the FDA recently made selling highly concentrated and pure caffeine products in bulk to consumers illegal. While the recommended serving size for these products is usually 200 mg of caffeine, which would be about 1/16 of a teaspoon of powdered pure caffeine, they are sold in large bags and even gallon sized bottles. Less than two teaspoons of powdered pure caffeine can be deadly. Just mistakenly using a heaping scoop versus a level scoop could lead to serious side effects. At least two deaths have already been reported.

Unlike these concentrated forms, dietary products that contain caffeine are much less likely to be a concern for most people when used in moderation. For instance, coffee contains 100-150 mg of caffeine per cup. That means you would need to drink about 20-28 cups of coffee to get the amount of caffeine found in a half cup of liquid caffeine or a teaspoon of powdered caffeine. So when used in moderation - such as 1-3 cups of coffee per day - dietary products containing caffeine are likely safe for most people.

For more details, check out our recently updated monograph.

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