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On the surface it appears harmless. Looking more like soda or Arizona Iced Tea—with its candy-colored packaging, oversized cartoonish lettering, and fruit flavors like watermelon, lemonade, and cranberry-lemonade—Four Loko is anything but innocuous.

Affectionately nicknamed “Blackout In A Can” and “Liquid Cocaine” by its fans, the drink has been under fire by several states, and even the Food and Drug Administration, both of which are reconsidering its safety.

Recently, the malt beverage that mixes alcohol with as much caffeine as a cup of coffee has been banned from several college campuses. According to the New York Times, and prompted by the hospitalizations of students at Central Washington University and Ramapo College, many universities are taking a hard look at the drink and they don’t like what they see.

The combination of caffeine and alcohol isn’t new. For years people have combined the two (think rum and coke or Red Bull and vodka) in an attempt to craft the ultimate drink that provides a buzz without the loss of energy. However, it’s this exact mixture that is giving many health professionals cause for concern.

Dr. Michael Reinhart, an emergency room doctor, told the Times, “This is one of the most dangerous new alcohol concoctions I have ever seen.” Dr. Reinhart said he’s treated numerous teenagers and adults within the last few months who were admitted after drinking Four Loko. According to the doctor, the malt beverage is extremely dangerous because it works against your body’s natural responses.  “It’s a recipe for disaster because your body’s natural defense is to get sleepy and not want to drink, but in this case you’re tricking the body with the caffeine.”

Four Loko, a relatively new company, is pushing back against the attacks. In a statement released after the incident at Central Washington University, Phusion Projects (Four Loko’s parent company) released a statement arguing that mixing alcoholic beverages with caffeine is perfectly safe.

“People have safely enjoyed mixing alcohol and caffeine products for years in their homes, and in restaurants and bars . . . Our products contain less alcohol than an average rum and cola, less alcohol and caffeine than an average Red Bull and vodka, and is comparable to having coffee after a meal with a couple glasses of wine. . . . Our products are not energy drinks, as they’ve been called—and when consumed responsibly, they are just as safe as any other alcoholic beverages.”

Although Phusion Projects may want Four Loko to be consumed responsibly, some are drinking it simply because of its potency. An entry in the Urban Dictionary says it all.

“Four Loko got its name because it sends the person who consumed it into FOUR STAGES OF CRAZY:

Stage 1: Tipsy (loud, might stumble, laugh)

Stage 2: Drunk (embarrassing, stumbling, slight slur)

Stage 3: Wasted (heavy slur, falling, hitting on fat girls)

Stage 4: Black Out (no ability to speak, vomiting, waking up next to a fat girl, memory loss)”

What do you think? Should Four Loko be banned on college campuses, or should people be responsible for their own consumption?

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