STORIES

Red Bull Madness: Energy Drinks Are a Gateway to Heroin

By David Jenison on February 12, 2018

Red Bull is a gateway stimulant that can lead to shooting heroin. Is it time for America to launch an energy drink prohibition? 

Proving that data can be contextualized to make anything a gateway drug, a new study in the Preventive Medicine journal argued that drinking energy drinks leads to hard drugs. The Texas-based researchers claimed their study "demonstrated that energy drinks may begin the drug use cycle" and that "energy drink use increases soft drug use and indirectly increases hard drug use." 

The direct quotes were necessary lest you think we're exaggerating their claim. 

"Energy drinks and escalation in drug use severity" examined the responses of 13 to 18 year olds in the 2015 Monitoring the Future (MTF) survey. The taxpayer-funded survey tracks drug-use trends among young people, and the researchers used the data to see if participants who consumed energy drinks later moved on to soft and/or hard drugs. 

What did the study find? "Energy drink consumption is significantly associated with increased soft drug use, which is, in turn, associated with significant increases in hard drug use."

In other words, teens who drink Red Bull have a higher risk of smoking reefer, and reefer is obviously a gateway to the hard stuff like cocaine and heroin, right? To this end, the researchers characterized energy drinks as "an important threat to adolescent health" and argued that the government should label energy drinks as dangerous, which was ironically the first step in prohibiting cannabis. 

This finding epitomizes the problem with studies that look at longitudinal data and draw conclusions based on behavioral trends. If MTF found that adolescent energy drink consumers were more likely to watch South Park as young adults, would that mean Red Bull causes people to laugh at potty humor? This type of data analysis can lead to an epic number of surreal "gateway" arguments, such as the cannabis-to-heroin claim that prohibitionists formally introduced in the 1970s. 

On a totally separate note, one of the researchers, Wanda Leal, co-authored a 2015 study titled "The National Felon League?" that compared the arrest rates of NFL players to the general public, followed later that year by a study titled, "Are NFL Arrestees Violent Specialists or High Frequency Offenders or Both?" Meanwhile, the other researcher, Dylan Jackson, co-authored the 2017 study "Does breast-feeding reduce offspring junk food consumption during childhood?" 

Spoiler alert: More breast equals less Ronald McDonald, which means Trump's eating habits might tell us something about his childhood. 

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