By Lea Shores
Staff reporter

Blackout in a can. Liquid cocaine. Four Loko. It doesn’t matter what you call it, it all spells danger.

Named for the four main ingredients, caffeine, taurine, guarana, and alcohol, Four Loko is becoming the go-to-drink for college students.

“It’s a cheap way to get drunk,” said Tanner Weeast, business administration senior.

Over the course of the last month, nine students from Washington and twenty-six from New Jersey were hospitalized after blacking out and becoming sick from drinking. Some students reportedly had blood alcohol content levels as high as 0.33, nearly four times the legal limit and potentially fatal. According to a CNN report, police initially thought students in Washington were drugged because their BAC was so high. Investigators eventually ruled Four Loko as the cause.

One can of Four Loko is 23.5 ounces and contains 12 percent alcohol. It is equivalent to
• 6 cans of light beer
• 1 750ml bottle of wine
• 5 shots of 80 proof liquor
• 3 cups of coffee

Dan Falk, dean of students, said, “I think it’s scary. It packs the punch of four or five beers plus a couple cups of espresso.”

Drinking too much alcohol is already dangerous. But paired with caffeine, the effects of alcohol are not as apparent, leading students to believe they can drink more or even get behind the wheel.

Falk is concerned about students’ ability to make good decisions while drinking Four Loko. “The caffeine masks the effects of alcohol. Students drink it and the caffeine makes them feel extra alert but they’re still drunk,” said Falk. “That caffeine could make students think they could drive but in reality their blood alcohol level is high. That depressant is still in their system.”

The combination of alcohol and caffeine isn’t a new idea. Rum and coke has been around for years and vodka and Red Bull was a popular combination a few years ago. College students are attracted more to Four Loko for several reasons.

According to Matt Gumm, clerk at C&B Liquor, Four Loko is sold for approximately $2.50, comes in seven flavors and is a draw because of the convenience of just buying one thing. “Most of the people really like it because it’s cheap and they’ll use it as a pre-game before they go to the bar,” said Gumm. “Some people use it as a mix and add more alcohol, making it more potent than it already is.”

Weeast said he has tried the drink before but didn’t like the taste. “I think it tasted like a malt liquor cough syrup. I would not drink it ever again,” said Weeast. “It made me pretty tipsy right away, not a good feeling. I hear a lot of people saying good things about it. They think it’s the best thing since sliced bread.”

“I know our students do drink Four Loko. I’m aware that it’s on campus,” said Falk. “It’s here and I just hope students look out for each other and if your friend is drinking it, you watch out for them and make sure they’re not making stupid decisions or driving or going home with someone they don’t know.”

Weeast said, “If somebody tells me they’re going to give me a drink that’s called blackout, I’m probably not going to drink it. I like to remember my nights.”

The Michigan Liquor Control Commission banned the sale of Four Loko and other similar drinks from being sold in the state on Nov. 5. There are also officials in several states, including Washington and New Jersey, who are trying to get Phusion Projects of Chicago Il., the makers of Four Loko, to take responsibility and stop making the drink.

Gumm said, “They have a lot of warnings on the can saying there’s alcohol. It’s pretty well advertised what you’re getting but not a lot of people know the effects of that stuff, what effect it’s going to have on you.”

Falk said, “They’re very savvy in their marketing. They know exactly what they are doing. From my point of view, the drink is relatively cheap, and that fits a college student’s budget. Energy drinks are already very popular among students. Then this company adds alcohol to that. They’re targeting students. The cans are colorful and cool looking, which attracts students. They’re marketing toward students and for them to say they’re not, they’re not being very up front about that.”

At the same time, Falk agrees that students need to be responsible for their own actions.

A ban on Four Loko may or may not be in the future, only time will tell. Until then, it’s up to students to know what they’re putting in their bodies. Gumm said, “I was in Wichita the other day and they had this new drink like Four Loko, Tilt. This is just the beginning.”

Lea Shores is a senior majoring in English. You may e-mail her at lea.shores@sckans.edu.