A R T I C L E S
Meth in a Can
Irritability. Heart arrhythmia. Osteoporosis. Withdrawal pains. The huge quantities
of stimulants in energy drinks can make them as risky as “real” drugs.
Keith M. Graves
It’s hard for longtime CrossFitters to forget the ar which ran in the October 2005 edition of the Journal. Part of the reason is the striking photo of author Nicole Carroll’s beautiful abs, but mostly it’s her revelation that food can be much like the very addictive drug, crack. She relates how certain foods are bad for our health and performance, why we crave them, and why we need to stop eating them now.
It got me thinking about a related and insidious problem: the influx of energy drinks on the U.S. market. Many people have come to accept and use Red Bull and its clones on a daily basis. I want you to walk away from reading this by remembering one thing: energy drinks are simply meth in a can. Yes, meth—methamphetamine, a highly addictive central nervous system stimulant. The more meth you take, the more you crave it and the more you need it. The same thing applies to energy drinks.
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Some people might think that this is just hyperbole. Some think there is no way that you can compare energy drinks
What’s Inside a Can
and supplements to meth. But the fact is that some of the more common ingredients in energy drinks are serious
stimulants, including caffeine, taurine, guarana, ginseng,
and L-carnitine. (The sidebar to the left details the effect
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant
each ingredient has on the body.) On top of that, one
discovered by a German chemist in 1819. It
can by itself often contains these stimulants in amazing
can be found in beans, leaves and the fruit of
quantities—as much as three to four times the amount of
some plants, where it acts as a pesticide by
caffeine in one cup of coffee. And caffeine is typically just
killing certain insects feeding on the plants.
It takes less than one hour for the stimulant
effects to take hold in the human body and
Most energy drink supplement companies often use the
extreme amount of these stimulants as a marketing tool. Names tell the story. One company sells their energy drink
by the name “Cocaine.” Other brand names include “Amp”
Taurine is an organic acid found in the lower
and “Wired.” But the charge they give you is fleeting and
intestine and in small amounts in the tissue
the negative after-effects linger far too long
of animals and humans. The average intake
of taurine in a person’s daily diet is approxi-
As these drinks began crowding the market, I began
to wonder if someone could appear to be “under the
taurine. Not a stimulant itself per se, taurine
influence” of these stimulants, much like being under the
is a vital, naturally occurring compound in
the body that in energy drinks is often paired
influence of meth. Sure enough, I was teaching a class
with stimulants (like caffeine) because it helps
of police officers recently about how to identify people
to keep a stimulated body under control. It
who are high on drugs. During the class the students, all
reduces muscular fatigue, aids thermoregula-
current police officers, were practicing their new skills by
tion (stabilize body temperature in physical
administering sobriety tests on one another. As they were
activity), improves concentration, and relaxes
practicing, one of the students was joking that his partner
Everyone in the class was a police officer, so you would
Guarana is a plant found in the Amazon Basin
hope they weren’t actually using meth. But, I did notice
that produces flowers and fruit in clusters.
that the young, laughing student was actually drinking
One seed from the fruit of this plant contains
a nice, tall can of Rockstar, a popular energy drink, just
as much as five times the amount of caffeine
before the exercise. I noticed that he did show some signs
of drug influence, so I asked this young officer what energy drinks he’d taken that day. The answer was alarming. That
morning he had already downed a 16-oz. can of “Rock Star
Ginseng is a slow-growing perennial found
Energy Shot,” a packet of “Zip Fizz,” and two other “energy
in Asia. It is often used as a stimulant, much
supplements” to help him stay awake and provide energy
I decided to a do a drug influence evaluation on the officer,
An amino acid produced by your liver and
since the consumption of the energy products had been
kidneys, L-carnitine assists with increas-
fairly recent. I wanted to see what effect the energy drinks
and supplements would have and to see how it compared
to someone under the influence of meth.
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I found that the student had the signs and symptoms Do you need to worry that it will affect your athletic perfor-of drug influence. His pupils were dilated and his pulse mance or your health? Absolutely! In France, the legisla-elevated, and I saw muscle tremors. These are signs of ture outlawed energy drinks after the death of 18-year-old methamphetamine influence. The only thing missing Irish basketball player Ross Cooney just after he finished was the massive euphoria that meth users feel when they a game. He had consumed four Red Bull drinks prior to ingest their drug.
When I sit in briefings, I notice that a number of officers There has been an increase in emergency room visits due are drinking energy drinks. When I go to the gym, I notice to intoxication from energy drinks. And more importantly, that a lot of people are drinking energy drinks during their a California man was recently arrested for DUI. What was workout. The final straw: watching a Little League coach his intoxicant of choice? Five energy drinks in an hour and give his 12-year-olds Red Bull just before the game. That’s a half.
just what you want, isn’t it? A bunch of 7th graders hopped Looking at the side-effects of some of these drinks, I am
up on caffeine, and not able to function after it wears off still shocked at the number of athletes and warriors (my
fellow police) who will tell me that they use the energy
The general population does not understand the growing drinks to help them stay awake and alert. Ironically, it does dangers that these drinks and supplements pose. And I do not actually accomplish this. It really has the opposite mean growing. With energy drink sales up 55% a year and affect—and could be detrimental to them when danger annual sales exceeding $5.4 billion dollars (yes, billion) in comes their way.
2006 (source: USA Today, 2008), the energy drink makers The stimulant that you take is not getting you the ‘boost’
can afford a hefty annual marketing budget.
that you are seeking and it hurts you in the long run. When
So why are energy drinks so bad for you? Let’s compare: you take caffeine or another stimulant into your body, it A normal cup of coffee has 80 mg of caffeine, a can of activates your adrenal glands and releases hormones in Coca Cola has 34 mg, and a Pepsi 37.5 mg. That’s nothing your body like adrenalin, norepinephrine, and cortisol. compared to energy drinks. 8.3 ounces of Red Bull has 80 If you take these stimulants, they are addictive and you mg; comparable 16-oz. cans of Rockstar, Monster, and Full will build a tolerance to them. Soon, you will need to take Throttle have 160mg. Starbucks Grande coffee has 330 more and more of the stimulant to achieve the desired mg; Wired 344 mg. And this is without counting the other effect, such as getting your ‘boost.’stimulants in the drinks.
As you take these stimulants on a daily basis, you will
Revving You Up and Wearing You Out
cause adrenal fatigue or, simply put, exhaustion. Therefore,
It is important to understand what so much stimulant the energy drink you are taking now is basically making does to your body. Intake of more than 400 mg of these matters worse for you. Over time, it will burn you out and stimulants can lead to a number of nasty side-effects: make matters still worse. On top of that, there has been nervousness, irritability, problems concentrating, sleep-
an increase of metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance and
lessness, muscle tremors, increased urination, abnormal diabetes. This increase can be attributed, at least in part, to heart rhythms (arrhythmia), decreased bone density, and adrenal over-stimulation.
an upset stomach. These stimulants may also slow the Normally, your body doesn’t get stimulated until you’re body’s ability to absorb water, leading to dehydration.
put into a stressful situation, at which time it will release
There is no requirement from the FDA to list the amount of adrenalin from your adrenal glands. This gives you the caffeine in these drinks, so you may or may not know how ‘boost’ you need at that particular moment. Examples much you are getting. As a rule of thumb, no one should would be running from a car about to hit you, reacting to drink more than one energy drink per day. However, I gunfire or defending yourself from an attack. If you’re not recently saw an energy drink with 2 grams of stimulant a cop, think of the moment that a police officer pulled in blend—that’s 2,000 milligrams (mg)! Compared that to behind you when you were speeding.
80 mg in a cup of coffee!
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Even a single cup of coffee can cause the release of these hormones. Continuing this release puts stress on the adrenal gland. Your adrenal gland just is not meant to release so much of the hormones over time.
No Compromises: Get Off the Meth
Many of you who use these products may already have
a basic understanding that these drinks and supplements
are bad for you. You may have experienced some of the
unpleasant side-effects I listed earlier. But now that you are
more informed, it is time to get off the meth. It is not going
to be easy. Just like meth, these substances are addictive
What can you expect when stopping the use of these drugs? Answer: Caffeine Withdrawal Syndrome (CWS).
According to a recent Johns Hopkins study, CWS may be listed in the next edition of the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), which is considered the bible of mental disorders. According to the same study, as little as one cup of coffee a day is enough to cause CWS. You may experience fatigue, problems with concentrating, and irritability and headaches.
Just like other stimulant drugs, cessation of use will cause Keith Graves is a certified Level 1 CrossFit Trainer at MMCrossFit
withdrawal symptoms and a craving for more of the in Livermore, CA. A police officer assigned to both the
stimulant. Withdrawal symptoms should subside within Narcotics Unit and the SWAT Team, Graves is a certified
Drug Recognition Expert Instructor (#3292), a court-certified
Energy drinks have become a part of our culture and expert in stimulant influence, and a teacher of drug influence
have become widely accepted. CrossFitters live a healthy courses for the California Narcotics Officers Association since
lifestyle and pride themselves on their level of fitness. They 2000. He often contributes under the pseudonym “12bravo” on
don’t want to be told that they have been duped and have the CrossFit blog.
been hurting their bodies. However, this stuff is poison and can lead to a whole slew of health problems.
I have seen too much to condone halfway measures on this issue. People using energy drinks are killing their health and should stop immediately. I know I sound militant, but this stuff is harmful and is doing us no favors.
Bottom line: These drinks are meth in a can.
If you see
someone using these products, help them get off the
meth. If you use them yourself, get off the meth. After all,
if you’re sipping the Kool-Aid of CrossFit, you don’t need
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