If you like coffee, drinking it is one of life’s small pleasures, all the better because it has a mild stimulant effect (assuming it’s not decaf) and thus perks you up. So why would marketers try to replace it with inhalable caffeine? Follow the money.
Combine the ideas of e-cigarettes and energy drinks—two multibillion-dollar fads—and this is what you get. The disposable battery-run caffeine vaporizers are usually marketed as dietary supplements (as are some liquid energy “shots”) and thus escape any meaningful regulation. As with e-cigarettes, these devices have a heating element that vaporizes the ingredients so they can be inhaled. Their cartridges typically contain ingredients found in energy drinks—guarana (a caffeine-rich plant), taurine (an amino acid derivative that supposedly works with caffeine), ginseng, vitamins, chemical flavoring agents and solvents, and who knows what else, since the labeling of ingredients is sketchy at best.
The potential problems with caffeine inhalers are almost too many to count. There’s little or no published research on the safety of the vaporized substances (identified or unidentified) that you inhale deep into your lungs and that then enter your bloodstream. Nor has the FDA reviewed the devices, though it should. Inhaling 10 to 20 puffs is supposed to provide the same caffeine jolt as a cup or two of coffee or most energy drinks, but the amount and its effect can vary greatly, depending on the device, the contents of the cartridge, and how you puff.
The marketers claim that their products give you more control over dosing since you quickly feel the energy boost and can stop inhaling when you feel sufficiently buzzed. But you can still get more caffeine than you bargained for, resulting in a racing heartbeat, upset stomach, lightheadedness, jitteriness, agitation, and insomnia, especially in people not used to caffeine. Those with underlying heart conditions, as well as teenagers and children, are particularly vulnerable to caffeine’s effects. The devices are not supposed to be sold to minors, but the candy-like flavors could easily appeal to them.
Bottom line: Caffeine is not just a food ingredient, it’s a stimulant drug that can cause physical dependency. Caffeine overdosing can be deadly—more than 18 deaths have been linked to high-caffeine energy drinks. These inhalers are an awful idea. We strongly recommend against using them.