Every culture has their preferred stimulants, as well as their preferred modes of getting these stimulants. Brazilians have the tropical berry Guarana, and many Asian cultures utilize ginseng and gingko in a number of ways. I remember being somewhat startled as a boy on a trip to South Asia when I witnessed masses of people chewing something called betel nut, which is an areca nut wrapped in betel leaves. The macerating of this nut and leaf combo provides a mild stimulant, akin to a shot of espresso, and also produces a profusion of rust-colored mucus that dribbles out of the chewers mouth, and is occasionally spat out in Pollockesque splatters on the ground. Not pretty, but stimulating nonetheless.
For Western culture, Caffeine seems to be the (legal) stimulant of choice. Over the past decade or so Americans have been bombarded with all sorts of vehicles to get caffeine into our systems. When coffee, tea and Coke are not enough, Americans have turned to everything from Red Bull to highly questionable products like the recalled Four Loko. But it seems that consumers (or at least marketers) have lost much of their patience for drinking a whole 8 ounces of something in an effort to get sufficiently buzzed. There are now an assortment of concentrated caffeinated shots and now, get ready for it – there is caffeinated gum. Sheets are stamp-sized gel sheets that dissolve in the mouth like a breath freshener, and provide 100 mg of caffeine per sheet (about the equivalent in a strong cup of coffee). It has zero calories, no sugar, a few select B vitamins, and is being heavily marketed (with a choice of odd celebrity endorsements including LeBron James of the Knicks) as just the kind of caffeine delivery system for people who believe that drinking coffee, or getting a reasonable amount of sleep, just takes way too long.
According to a NPR report, caffeinated gum is not exactly a new innovation. The Army developed caffeinated gum some time ago and has been including it with some ration packages because caffeine helps sleep-deprived soldiers maintain vigilance. However psychology professor Amy Wolfson of the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts says the focus should be on getting more sleep. “We devalue sleep as a society, and that’s been clear to sleep researchers for a long time,” she says.
There has also been reasonable concern that items like caffeinated gum, as well as the longstanding highly caffeinated energy drinks, are making it into the hands of children and teens, whose bodies may not be able to handle the jolt of the stimulant nearly as well as adults might be able to. The appeal of a quick jolt of caffeine holds just as much allure to children as it does adults, but caffeine has been shown to have a significant effect on sleep, mood, and cognitive abilities in children. In essence, a jolt of caffeine may be a pleasant jolt for adults (with some danger) but for children, a sheet of caffeinated gum may be a very bad idea.
What is your feeling on the huge array of caffeinated products available and their wide appeal? Are you concerned that our society and our children are becoming too caffeinated for their own good? Is caffeinated gum a lousy idea or something you may want to try?