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AeroShot caffeine inhalers: The next club drug?

aeroshot, caffeine inhaler
Students try free samples of AeroShot, an inhalable caffeine packed in a lipstick-sized canister, on the campus of Northeastern University in Boston. AP

(CBS/AP) A caffeine inhaler called AeroShot claims to give users the same caffeine boost that's in a large cup of coffee. But some officials worry that the product, which is currently sold in Massachusetts, New York, and France, could also be the next club drug of abuse for young adults.

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A single gray and yellow canister of AeroShot costs $2.99 at a convenience store or online. It contains 100 milligrams of caffeine powder plus B-vitamins, and each single-use container has up to six puffs. Once a user puffs the calorie-free AeroShot into his or her mouth, the lemon-lime powder begins dissolving almost instantly.

Dr. David Edwards, a biomedical engineering professor at Harvard who helped create the product, says AeroShot is safe and doesn't contain taurine, a popular supplement used to amplify caffeine's effects in energy drinks.

But Democratic U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer of New York wants the FDA to review AeroShot, saying he fears it will be used as a club drug that young people will take to allow them to drink until they drop.

Schumer's national press secretary did not immediately respond to calls for comment. FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey declined to comment, saying the agency will respond directly to Schumer on the matter.

Edwards said Schumer's comments are understandable, considering some recent developments, such as when students seeking a quick and cheap buzz started drinking caffeine-packed alcoholic drinks like Four Lokothat they dubbed "blackout in a can" because of their potency.

But Edwards said AeroShot is not targeting adults under 18 and it safely delivers caffeine into the mouth, just like coffee.

"Even with coffee - if you look at the reaction in Europe to coffee when it first appeared - there was quite a bit of hysteria," he said. "So anything new, there's always some knee-jerk reaction that makes us believe `Well, maybe it's not safe.'"

Dr. Lisa Ganjhu, a gastroenterologist and internal medicine doctor at New York-based St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital, said people need to be aware of how much caffeine they are ingesting.

"You want those 10 cups of coffee, it will probably take you a couple hours to get through all that coffee with all that volume that you are drinking," Ganjhu said. "With these inhale caffeine canisters you can get that in 10 of those little canisters - so you just puff away and you could be getting all of that within the hour."

The product packaging warns people not to consume more than three AeroShots per day.

"In my view, frequent use of caffeine inhalers has the potential to lead to abuse," Dr. Robert Glatter, emergency medicine physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told HealthPop. Glatter said too much caffeine could be dangerous too, causing heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, restlessness, anxiety, and insomnia. People who take in more than 8,000 milligrams of caffeine - the contents of 80 inhalers - could even have a lethal overdose from ventricular fibrillation, a lethal cardiac rhythm, he said.

"Significant public education is paramount in order avert dangerous outcomes," Glatter said.

Regardless of potential risks, some people vowed they would never give up their morning coffee.

"I want to brew it, I want to stir it and I want to drink it slowly as I absorb the caffeine," said longtime coffee fan Mark Alexander.

The makers of AeroShot appear to be aware of that sentiment, declaring that the product isn't about switching away from coffee, but rather making it easier for people get their caffeine fix on the go, such as on an airplane or a long car drive.

AeroShot, manufactured in France and the flagship product of Cambridge-based Breathable Foods Inc., is the product of a conversation that Edwards had with celebrity French chef Thierry Marks in 2007.

"We were discussing what interesting culinary art experiments we might do together and I had the idea that we might breathe foods since I've done a lot of work over the last 10 or 15 years on medical aerosols," Edwards said.

The first venture Edwards worked on with Harvard students was the breathable chocolate, called Le Whif. Now he's preparing to promote a product called Le Whaf, which involves putting food and drinks in futuristic-looking glass bowls and turning them into low-calorie clouds of flavor.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, club drugs include GHB, Rohypnol, ketamine, MDMA, methamphetamine, and LSD (Acid). They are most frequently used by teenagers and young adults at bars, concerts, and parties.