What Is Caffeine Powder and Is It Dangerous?
Last Updated on November 11, 2021
Most people can consume caffeine without developing any substance use issues, but some people may be more likely to develop a caffeine addiction than others. Highly concentrated or pure caffeine powder can contribute to or worsen stimulant addictions and can also be extremely dangerous when added to drinks or foods.
What is caffeine powder?
Caffeine powder is a dietary supplement that consists of pure or highly concentrated caffeine (a central nervous system stimulant) in powder form.1 These supplements are typically marketed and sold online in bulk quantities, with some packages containing thousands of servings. When purchased, the consumer must carefully and accurately measure a safe serving of the product before adding it to drinks or food items. Otherwise, they may experience uncomfortable, dangerous, or even life-threatening side effects.
According to Market Watch, North America is currently the largest consumer of caffeine powder. The global caffeine powder market is valued at 402.2 million USD in 2020 and is expected to reach 640.7 million USD by the end of 2026.2
What is caffeine powder used for?
Caffeine powder uses vary depending on the person, but it’s often added to foods and beverages for the following purposes:
- To boost energy and reducing drowsiness
- To stimulate athletic performance
- To lose weight
Is powdered caffeine safe?
Although caffeine powder can be safe when the recommended amount is used and it’s effective for the purposes listed above, highly concentrated and pure caffeine can also be dangerous to consumers. That’s because the difference between a safe serving and a fatal serving is very slight.
The standard “serving size” on packages of caffeine powder lists a serving as a mere 1/16th of a teaspoon, or 200 milligrams. Most individuals lack the type of precise measuring tools it would take to properly measure out that specific amount. The powder is so potent that even a small amount can cause an overdose. Just one teaspoon of the powder equals drinking 20 to 28 cups of coffee and is considered a lethal dose.
As a result, there is a high likelihood that someone will accidentally or purposely use caffeine powder in excess and suffer serious (or fatal) consequences. In fact, caffeine powder has been linked to at least two deaths among healthy individuals.
In 2018, the FDA cracked down on companies selling caffeine powder, stating that, “dietary supplements containing pure or highly concentrated caffeine in powder or liquid forms are considered unlawful when sold in bulk quantities directly to consumers.”3
Since the FDA administered this new guidance and sent out warning letters to several caffeine powder manufacturers, some manufacturers have continued producing caffeine powder and selling it as a dietary supplement online. As such, the dangers of these products very much remain.
Jim O’Hara, health promotion policy director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest feels that caffeine is being overused in foods. In an interview with Yahoo Health, he stated, “Caffeine is being introduced in an indiscriminate fashion and is causing the potential for serious health risks, especially for young people.”
Jennifer Doran, a spokesperson for the FDA warns parents that young people especially may be attracted to caffeine powder. With the popularity of energy drinks and other caffeine-laden substances, most teenagers and young adults are unaware that caffeine is actually dangerous in relatively small amounts. And caffeine powder is so highly concentrated that it takes only a small amount to be deadly. There are roughly 74 milligrams of caffeine in one teaspoon of instant coffee; however, a teaspoon of caffeine powder contains over 3,000 milligrams.
How does pure caffeine powder affect the brain?
The stimulating effects of caffeine are felt shortly after consuming it. It’s absorbed through the small intestine and easily passes through the blood-brain barrier to enter the brain. There, it causes some trouble.
You see, caffeine closely resembles adenosine, which is an organic compound that is naturally found in the brain. Normally, adenosine will lock into receptors in the brain and produce feelings of tiredness. These feelings would typically motivate us to get some rest. However, since caffeine is so similar, it can easily fit into the brain’s adenosine receptors and block them. This prevents the feelings of tiredness from occurring and produces feelings of alertness and energy until the caffeine is metabolized entirely.
The brain will also recognize that many of the adenosine receptors are blocked, and will increase adrenaline production (another stimulant). This further increases the feelings of alertness and energy we feel when we consume caffeine.
Pure caffeine powder effects
Much like coffee and other caffeinated beverages, consuming too much caffeine will produce undesirable side effects. Some common pure caffeine powder effects include:4
- Rapid or abnormal heart rhythm
- Dependency (you need more of it to get the same results)
What are caffeine withdrawal symptoms?
Caffeine withdrawal is a recognized medical condition. Consuming too much caffeine regularly can lead to caffeine withdrawal, which can produce symptoms like:4
- Difficulty concentrating
Usually, caffeine withdrawal symptoms begin with a day of abruptly quitting caffeine consumption and they can last for a week or longer.
To reduce the severity of caffeine withdrawal symptoms, it’s best to avoid quitting caffeine consumption cold turkey. Instead, a person should gradually decrease their caffeine consumption over several weeks’ time. This will break the addiction and reduce the discomfort of caffeine withdrawal symptoms.
Is caffeine powder legal?
According to the FDA, some caffeine powders are illegal when sold in bulk directly to customers. The statement that the agency published in 2018 included this excerpt:3
“Despite multiple actions against these products in the past, we’ve seen a continued trend of products containing highly concentrated or pure caffeine being marketed directly to consumers as dietary supplements and sold in bulk quantities, with up to thousands of recommended servings per container. We know these products are sometimes being used in potentially dangerous ways. For example, teenagers, for a perceived energy kick, sometimes mix dangerously high amounts of super-concentrated caffeine into workout cocktails. The amounts used can too easily become deceptively high because of the super-concentrated forms and bulk packaging in which the caffeine is being sold,” said Scott Gottlieb, M.D., FDA commissioner. “We’re making clear for industry that these highly concentrated forms of caffeine that are being sold in bulk packages are generally illegal under current law. We’ll act to remove these dangerous bulk products from the market.”
What are the dangers of caffeine powder?
Caffeine powder supplements may not seem very dangerous, but there are many risks associated with using these products.
- Caffeine powder is incredibly powerful. Highly concentrated and pure caffeine powder is much more powerful than your average cup of coffee or energy drink. To put things into perspective, one teaspoon of powdered pure caffeine contains about 3,200 mg of caffeine or about 20 to 28 cups of coffee. This is a toxic dose of caffeine.
- Caffeine powder is difficult to measure. To accurately measure a safe dose of caffeine powder, you’d have to have a microscale. Not many people have one of those lying around in their kitchen, which means most people would probably just attempt to measure with a teaspoon, which could easily result in a caffeine overdose.
- Caffeine powder is likely to be misused due to its stimulating effects. Caffeine powder is intended to be used by sprinkling it into food or beverages. However, many people misuse it by snorting it. In doing so, it reaches the bloodstream faster and provides quicker, stronger stimulant effects.
Here is just one example of such an instance: In May of 2014, just a few days before his high school graduation, a young man in Ohio died suddenly as a result of a caffeine overdose. It was determined that he had 70 micrograms of caffeine per milliliter of blood in his body whereas the average coffee drinker has only 3 to 5. His mother later discovered a bag of powder in his room and was told it was caffeine powder, a legal substance.
Is caffeine powder addictive?
Yes, caffeine powder is a central nervous system stimulant and it can be addictive if it is overused. If a person regularly uses caffeine powder to increase the caffeine content of foods and drinks, he or she is likely to become physically dependent or addicted to it. Eventually, he or she may also struggle to function normally without caffeine. Withdrawal is likely to be difficult.
What are signs of caffeine addiction?
The 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders does not recognize caffeine addiction as a substance use disorder, but it has classified it as a condition that needs to be studied further.5
According to a study published in the journal Current Addiction Reports, for someone to be diagnosed with a caffeine use disorder, all three of the following criteria must apply:6
- A persistent desire or unsuccessful desire to control caffeine use
- Continuing to misuse caffeine despite the harm it causes
- Experiencing caffeine withdrawal symptoms
A person who is experiencing a co-occurring mental health disorder may be more likely to experience caffeine addiction, which can make it more difficult to stop.
Get help for a stimulant addiction
Caffeine is generally seen as an innocuous substance. It is regularly added to drinks and snacks, and for many has become a welcome part of their morning ritual. However, despite its appeal as a pick-me-up, a weight loss aid, or an energy booster, caffeine is still a stimulant and overuse can be dangerous.
Caffeine powder is a harmful and misunderstood substance. And while caffeine is generally considered harmless by most people who regularly consume coffee or soda, powdered caffeine is a highly hazardous concentrated stimulant that should not be consumed.
Treatment for stimulant use disorders usually consists of cognitive behavioral therapy, medication, and sober peer support. However, treatment varies from person to person and is highly individualized. At Nova Recovery Center, we offer rehab in Austin Texas to address stimulant addictions, including:
- Residential inpatient addiction treatment
- Intensive outpatient treatment (online IOP and in-person)
- Sober living programs for men and women
- Certified Peer Recovery Support Program
These programs gradually guide our clients who are seeking recovery in Austin through each stage of treatment and address their individual needs.
Contact our Austin recovery center today
If you need help to overcome caffeine addiction or any other stimulant addiction, please contact Nova Recovery Center today to learn about your treatment options. We accept most health insurance providers and offer several different payment options. Contact our Austin recovery center today to get started.