Energy drinks don't exactly have a good reputation. They've been linked to several deaths, including some in Canada, and are continously targeted by health advocates who say their sale should be banned or restricted.
Now, a new report from the United States provides further evidence that the concern over energy drinks is justified.
The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration report found that the number of people who went to hospital emergency room after consuming energy drinks more than doubled from just over 10,000 in 2007 to nearly 21,000 in 2011.
People aged 18 to 25 had the highest number of ER visits related to energy drinks, followed by those aged 26 to 39, according to the report. However, it noted that people aged 40 and over represented the group with the highest increase in ER visits from 2007 to 2011.
More than half of all ER visits involved energy drinks alone, while 42 per cent involved energy drinks taken in combination with "other drugs," the report says.
Energy drinks are associated with a range of adverse health effects, some of them serious, including insomnia, headache, agitation, rapid heartbeat and seizures.
The central issue related to energy drinks is the amount of caffeine they contain. The amount can vary from 80 to more than 500 milligrams, the report states. A 237-millilitre (eight-ounce) cup of coffee has about 135 milligrams of caffeine, according to Health Canada.
Health Canada has announced steps to limit the potential risks of energy drinks, but they were widely criticized for falling too short of what is needed. For instance, under new rules, the amount of caffeine in a single serving of an energy drink can't exceed 180 milligrams, more than the amount in a cup of coffee.
Some critics say allowing that much caffeine in energy drinks isn't a good idea, considering the biggest market for them are young people, who may be more vulnerable to the effects of caffeine.