Chocolate-Coated Caffeine Candies Cause Overdose, Sends Writer to the Hospital

Clean Plate Charlie writers meet each week for a blog meeting. It's there we "chew the fat" and brainstorm about "tasty morsels" to write about.

It's also the morning when I usually come into the office slightly harried and hungry after trying to fit a day's worth of writing into that morning, before geting ready, and driving to our New Times offices.

On that one particular morning, I found a few boxes of Energems in the mail. Made by a Deerfield Beach-based company, these "energy supplements" are candy-coated milk chocolate bits in flavors like chocolate charge, mint fusion, and peanut butter blast. They also pack a punch!

In fact, three tiny "gems" contain 325.5 milligrams of a "proprietary energy blend of D-Glucuronolactone, Taurine, Caffeine, and Suntheanine (L-Theanine). In other words, three of these M&M lookalikes equal "an energy drink or a strong cup of coffee".

Needless to say, during the course of the meeting, I ate too many. Way too many. My hands were shaking, my heart started racing, and I was feeling dizzy as I read the teeny tiny print on the box...

"Do not exceed two boxes daily, consumed several hours apart, " it said under "recommended use".

The box also had a tiny caution, which read:

"Limit caffeine products to avoid nervousness, sleeplessness, and occasional rapid heartbeat. Do not take if you are pregnant or nursing, or under 18 years of age. If you are taking medication and/or have a medical condition, consult your doctor before use."

Like anyone who has ever felt punk, I immediately did the dumbest thing possible. That's right! I consulted WebMd, which told me to call the poison control hotline or go to the nearest emergency room.

A call to the Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) told me to look out for the following symptoms: shaking or tremors, nausea, vomiting, and heart palpitations. The gentleman on the phone told me to dilute the caffeine by drinking lots of water and eat something and that 50% of the caffeine would leave my body in four hours.

If you think driving in Miami traffic is maddening, try driving home when you're speeding on caffeine! It's an experience I won't soon forget. When I finally got home, I started feeling worse, so I drove myself to the nearest ER and showed the doctor the empty box. After taking my blood pressure and heart rate, he said I was basically on an Amphetamine high and that I should just go home and feel lousy for a while.

I made a mistake, and I own that. I didn't really look at what I was eating and the story is funny now -- like the time I put a bead up my nose to see what would happen when I was five.

But look on the internet, and you'll find that caffeine-related overdoses and deaths are on the rise. In 2010, a British man died from a caffeine overdose and the website lawsuitsandsettlements.com has compiled a list of energy drink-related deaths and hospitalizations. According to the FDA, 600 milligrams of caffeine (about what's in four-seven five-ounce cups of coffee) is too much.

The FDA also warns that "caffeine overdose is dangerous and can kill you". It cites the case of a "19 year old college student who died after taking an overdose of caffeine tablets to stay awake."

I'm not concerned about Energems -- but I am concerned about the packaging.

The box has a picture of what looks like tasty candy on the front. The warning is written in tiny letters. The box has no child-proofing and Energems are marketed mainly to women. The caffeine "supplements" are disguised in chocolate. If I can make a mistake, couldn't a child rummaging through mommy's handbag? An article in the Sun-Sentinel about the product quotes Angela Ramirez, who sells Energems in several family-owned gas stations, as saying, "It tastes like a big M&M."

I contacted the publicist for Energems and was told that the packaging was in the process of being changed, although there have been no complaints or incidents. In the meantime, if you purchase Energems, use them with caution. And keep them away from your kids and pets. They may look like candy, but they're not.

Follow Laine Doss on Twitter @LaineDoss and Facebook.

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