Is Four Loko a menace, or the most unjustly feared phenomenon since Islam? The energy drink, which contains both caffeine and alcohol, has been at the center of controversy for weeks now. A number of college students have been hospitalized after consuming the drink, and four states have banned it outright, with distributors agreeing to stop shipping to a fifth. On Tuesday, the manufacturer, Phusion Projects, announced that it would be removing caffeine, guarana, and taurine from its products. It's a drastic move, but Phusion's hand was forced: the Food and Drug Administration has been preparing a statement on caffeinated alcohol drinks, and was expected to ban Four Loko in its caffeinated form as early as this week.
This Is Reefer Madness All Over Again Erik Maza at The Baltimore Sun writes that "we have now reached Four Loko hysteria saturation... Four Loko stories are beginning to sound like a scary movie's viral campaign. Next we'll hear it made a 75-year-old woman faint in a theater somewhere."
This Stuff Isn't Actually Dangerous, writes Jacob Sullum at Reason--at least, it's no more dangerous than other drinks on the market. "Every alcoholic beverage is 'potentially hazardous,' and none will ever be proven 'safe,'" writes Sullum, assuming "safe" means "risk-free." "But there's no question that a can of Four Loko, which has less alcohol than a bottle of wine and about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee, can be consumed without serious adverse effects. If every alcoholic beverage had to pass the reckless college student test, they all would be banned."
Hang On--Evidence Suggests That It Could Be The Associated Press item about Phusion removing caffeine from Four Loko notes that "while there is little known medical evidence that the drinks are less safe than other alcoholic drinks, public health advocates say the drinks can make people feel more alert and able to handle tasks like driving. A Wake Forest University study found that students who combine caffeine and alcohol are more likely to suffer alcohol-related injuries than those drinking alcohol without caffeine."
The Alcohol-Energy Drink Relationship Goes Beyond Four Loko At Time, Meredith Melnick reports that "plain old booze-free energy drinks — like Red Bull and Monster — may also increase the risk of alcohol abuse among teens and college students, at least according to a new study by researchers at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins... The risk persisted even when the researchers controlled for factors that could independently increase drinking problems, such as having a 'sensation-seeking' personality type, a family history of addiction, depression or involvement in fraternities and sororities." Melnick adds that "the relationship between energy-drink use and increased risk of alcohol abuse is not entirely clear, and the researchers acknowledge that causality may go in either direction."
You Can Just Make Your Own! At the meme circulator Buzzfeed, an intrepid group of guerrilla food-and-drink scientists demonstrate how you can synthesize a Four Loko bootleg out of Monster Energy, Jolly Ranchers, Sprite, malt liquor, and generic caffeine pills. This echoes a point about "the futility of banning alcoholic energy drinks," as made by Stephen Bainbridge: "Get a hold of a beer. Get a hold of an energy drink. Mix in your preferred ratio. Voila."
Daily Reminder: Four Loko Is Terrible Jeff Neumann at Gawker guesses that these are the end times for "the malted nastiness that was Four Loko." No great loss, says Neumann: "What is Four Loko without the caffeine? Another run of the mill, shitty alcoholic beverage in a can."