Recent research done by the Scottish Poisons Information Bureau suggests that the problem of caffeine overdosing may be much higher than previously suspected.
Number of Caffeine Overdose Cases in Edinburgh
Every year between 70 and 110 cases of patients suffering from caffeine abuse are dealt with in one hospital in the city. Between 2000 and 2015, over 700 people had been treated for caffeine overdose at that Edinburgh hospital. These figures may seem low, but extrapolated over the country as a whole, there does seem to be a sizable and growing problem.
Symptoms of Caffeine Overdose
Nausea and vomiting, dizziness, headaches, tremors and general agitation are the most frequently recorded symptoms. The heart rate is generally raised well above the normal 60-80 beats per minute and the patient will feel generally unwell.
What Substances Contain Caffeine?
Coffee is the most obvious source of caffeine. Tea is another. Some other substances that contain caffeine include the following:
- Energy drinks such as Red Bull, Rockstar and Relentless also have high levels.
- Soft drinks such as Coca-cola, Pepsi and Irn Bru contain caffeine, as do the diet versions.
- Pills like ProPlus contain caffeine, as do proprietary medicines such as some headache pills.
- Chocolate contains caffeine in low levels.
- Buckfast Tonic wine contains caffeine.
How Much Caffeine is in Each Substance?
The amount of caffeine in coffee varies greatly according to the size of cup used and the strength of the brew. According to the (Glasgow) Herald, the largest size of brewed coffee in Starbucks contains 400mg of caffeine, equivalent to five cans of Red Bull.
- A mug of instant coffee contains around 60mg while espresso has less than 80mg.
- A normal cup of tea has about 50 mg while green tea and herbal teas are much lower, some having no caffeine.
- A can of Diet Coke carries 45mg, regular Coke has 35mg and Pepsi Max 69mg per can.
- Two ProPlus pills contain 100mg while a chocolate bar is about the same as decaffeinated coffee (i.e. containing very little caffeine).
Caffeine and Alcohol: A Potent Mix
There is a serious problem when alcohol and caffeine are combined in a drink like Buckfast Tonic wine. A bottle of Buckfast contains 37.5 mg of caffeine per 100mls, giving each 75cl bottle the caffeine fix equivalent to eight cans of Coke but with alcohol included.
A BBC Scotland programme claimed that many violent crimes had been linked to the consumption of Buckfast wine. 5638 crime reports from 2012-2015 mentioned Buckfast with one in ten of these offences involving violence.
Buckfast wine is made by Benedictine monks at Buckfast Abbey in Devon and is marketed as a ‘tonic wine.” However research done at Polmont Young Offenders Institution and reported by the BBC in their programme, The Buckfast Code, revealed that 80% of offenders had been drinking before they offended and of those, 40% had been drinking Buckfast. Sales of Buckfast Tonic Wine in Scotland total less than 0.5% of all alcohol sales.
The US Food and Drug Administration are considering banning pre-mixed alcohol and caffeine drinks while Canada, France, Ireland and Australia have issued health warnings about them.