Companies can no longer sell bulk packages of liquid or powdered caffeine directly to consumers, the Food and Drug Administration announced Friday. The policy will take immediate effect "given the significant public health concern," according to the agency's statement released Friday. "Highly concentrated and pure caffeine, often sold in bulk packages, have been linked to at least two deaths in otherwise healthy individuals," the agency stated.
Parents of one of the people who died, 18-year-old Logan Stiner, called in 2014 for the powder to be banned. They told NBC News they found the packet of powdered caffeine the day after their son died. His mother's first reaction was "that couldn't have killed him," she said. "We're guessing he had a teaspoon, maybe more, in his system."
"It should be as illegal as heroin."
The FDA previously issued warning letters to five companies distributing the products in bulk in 2015, Reuters reported.
In small doses, if you're otherwise healthy, caffeine shouldn't kill you. But part of the issue is that highly concentrated caffeine looks nothing like the kinds of caffeinated products we're used to seeing. Instead, it can look like water if it's in a liquid form or sugar if it's powdered. "The consequences of a consumer mistakenly confusing one of these products could be toxic or even lethal," the agency stated.
Another issue is that people might not know how much is too much; that's why the agency isn't enforcing the same kind of regulation on companies that make caffeine tablets or smaller, pre-measured packets.
Between 10 and 14 grams of caffeine is considered life-threatening, according to the FDA's guidelines, though people can have an irregular or rapid heart rate and seizures after taking just a gram. The amount of concentrated caffeine that's considered safe at a time—200 milligrams—is very, very small. It works out to be less than one-tenth of a teaspoon of the powdered form or a little more than two teaspoons of liquid caffeine. Good luck measuring that out properly at home.
Thankfully, the FDA's new guidance won't have any effect at all on your morning cup of joe. "This guidance does not affect other types of products that might also contain caffeine, such as prescription or over-the-counter drugs or conventional foods," the agency stated.