Arguably, there hasn't been as much uproar over an alcoholic drink as there is now since prohibition. This drink has spawned so many rumors—one can will send you to the hospital!—that it has almost gained urban legend status, simultaneously vilified and celebrated in equal doses of hysteria. But this drink is very real, and the more it is discussed, in a positive or negative light, the faster it spreads across the country. Hide yo' kids. Hide yo' wife. Four Loko is coming!
My original intent for this article a few weeks ago, being aware of Lokomania, was to actually consume and review some Four Loko. However, upon receiving an e-mail from the College explaining that such drinks are prohibited by the alcohol policy, I decided to reconsider. I am actually not sure why these drinks are outlawed, since the alcohol policy states that although beverages containing more than 10 percent alcohol by volume are banned, "generally, this excludes malt beverages and hard liquor mixes,'" and Four Loko is technically a malt beverage. Given that my last article was about 40s, though, I decided not to test my luck.
Overall, really, I found the response from the College to be very fair and controlled. Instead of trying to scare us, they simply raised some relevant information and, most importantly, instructed us to educate ourselves. Because if you don't even bother to research things on your own and find out what you're putting in your body, than you are so dumb. You are really dumb. Fo' real.
It can be hard, however, to sift through the recent torrent of information and speculation regarding Four Loko. If you are somehow completely unaware that this drink even exists, here are the basic facts: Four Loko is made by Phusion Projects LLC, a Chicago-based alcoholic energy drink company, which also makes another product called Four MaXed. Developed by three alumni of The Ohio State University, these beverages get their "Four" from the four main ingredients going into all their malted brews: alcohol, caffeine, taurine and guarana.
These drinks have actually been around for some time, (they hit the streets in 2005), but have come under more intense scrutiny as their market share continues to rise and as more incidents, such as the nine Central Washington University students hospitalized in October, come to light. But is this stuff really so bad?
The article the Orient ran last week about Four Loko did a good job of demonstrating the difficulty in measuring the relative danger of this drink. First of all, the drink can be found in concentrations of 6 or 12 ABV, which are very different. A beverage with 6 ABV is moderately above the average beer in terms of alcohol content, while 12 ABV is pushing into wine territory. The caffeine content is significant, equal to "a tall Starbucks coffee" according to Phusion's website, but has been overstated by some sources. It's not clear how the other stimulants, taurine and guarana, factor into the mix.
Possibly the hardest thing to measure, however, is how these two forces—depressants and stimulants—act together. There is some evidence that the stimulating effects of caffeine, taurine and guarana may in some way mask the characteristic drunk feeling one experiences when consuming alcohol and create belligerence by providing the user with the necessary energy to act on their drunk impulses. The real problem, though, is that the FDA is still in the process of testing this, so right now, the actual effect is unclear.
There is, however, some precedent. In 2002, a groundbreaking alcoholic energy drink by the name of Sparks was launched in San Francisco. After steadily growing over four years, particularly among the hipster community, the beverage was bought by Miller Brewing Company (although all hipsters will tell you they liked it before it got bought out). Miller was sued two years later by a consumer advocacy group with similar concerns to those being currently raised regarding Four Loko. Miller dropped the caffeine before the FDA stepped in, and now it can be bought as simply a malt beverage.
Will Four Loko suffer the same fate as the once great Sparks? It's hard to tell. Should you wait until the FDA makes a ruling before trying Four Loko? Like the College, I suggest you use your own discretion (although every year someone chugs a Nalgene of vodka) and ask yourself, do you really want to? Although some swear by it, we are talking about a product generally found in 7-Elevens, loaded with sugar and a bunch of fake, fruity flavors. If the alcohol and caffeine content don't scare you away, how about the fact that a single can contains 660 calories? Run and tell the homeboy.