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A CLOSER LOOK: ENERGY DRINKS

A push over the edge?

The caffeine-loaded beverages may also be gateways to substance abuse, drug experts say.

October 13, 2008|Jill U. Adams | Special to The Times

Researchers say it's not just the caffeine in the energy drinks that is troubling. "The issue with the energy drinks is the way that they're marketed," Miller says.

Griffiths points to the drug culture language used by energy drink producers. The energy drink Bawls promises "a powerful rush of caffeine"; for SexDrive, it's "a feeling of well-being"; 5-hour promises "no crash and no jitters"; with Monster, it's "a wicked mega hit that delivers twice the buzz"; and Cocaine: the "world's most dangerous energy supplement."

The research on energy drinks is still in its infancy, and more must be done to confirm the gateway hypothesis. But it makes sense, Griffiths says. By sponsoring extreme sports and promising to enhance performance and stamina -- " 'slam the can,' as they say before a competition" -- energy drink makers are selling a message along with their product.

"If you buy into that [message] and then you're offered some Ritalin by your college roommate, it's an easy line to cross over," Griffiths says. "But I think as a society, we want to make that a very bright line."

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The buzz on buzz

You can read more about the issue and the risks of caffeine intoxication -- a recognized medical syndrome characterized by such symptoms as nervousness, tremors, gastrointestinal upset and rapid heartbeat, at latimes.com/energydrinks.

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