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The 4 Most Disgusting Energy Drinks Sold in America

We're inundated by deceptive marketing about these pricey and potentially dangerous drinks.

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Most of us have experienced a time in our lives when we needed an extra jolt of energy, be it during a college all-nighter or a post-insomnia morning at the office. It’s during these times, when we’re most sleep deprived, vulnerable, and desperate, that energy drink companies hope their marketing will reel us in with promises of an out-of-this-world energy boost.

Any consumer with even a passing awareness of marketing tricks and ploys knows that no product will actually give you “wings” or any other superhuman traits. And yet, according to a recent New York Times report, “Energy drinks are the fastest-growing part of the beverage industry, with sales in the United States reaching more than $10 billion in 2012.”

Although coffee is said to have the same metabolic effect as many energy drinks – and is often significantly cheaper, to boot – shoppers, especially young shoppers, are being lured in by promises of special recipes that can do more for the brain and body than mere caffeine alone. The Times report looks at how energy drink websites are filled to the brim with dubious pseudo-science that, combined with slick marketing and packaging, convince hoards of young Americans to spend a good amount of money on substances that are no better than good old-fashioned coffee or NoDoz, and in fact are filled with many useless ingredients. What’s more, some energy drinks can be dangerous if consumed in excess. This is all a sign of a “generational shift in what people drink, and reflects a successful campaign to convince consumers, particularly teenagers, that the drinks provide a mental and physical edge.”

To drive the point home, let’s take a look at some of the more questionable energy drinks on the market.

1. 5-Hour Energy

The fact that this headline, from a November issue of The Week, even needed to exist should tell you something: “Can 5-Hour Energy drink kill you?”

The answer to that question is “maybe.” Though there is no proof that drinking 5-Hour Energy can lead to death, the FDA has reportedly received 13 reports over four years citing the energy “shot” as a potential cause of death. The agency has also received 92 reports of “adverse effects” that cite the drink, some of them involving heart attacks and one a “spontaneous abortion.” There’s speculation that the drink’s spectacularly high doses of caffeine – one tiny, 2-ounce shot is estimated to have twice as much caffeine as a cup of coffee – could be to blame for any of these potential deaths or injuries, since some people are more sensitive to the drug than others.

While we’re on the subject of caffeine, here’s a somewhat disturbing fact: because energy drinks are labeled and sold as “drinks,” they are not required by the FDA to disclose the amount of caffeine they contain.

To top it off, 5-Hour Energy’s claim that drinkers will experience “no crash later” appears to be bull. On the packaging for the product, that claim is followed by an asterisk noting that “no crash means no sugar crash.” Well duh: 5-Hour Energy doesn’t contain any sugar. But it may still lead to an energy crash. A recent study conducted by a Tufts University researcher found that nearly a quarter of participants who drank 5-Hour Energy experienced a “moderately severe crash that left them extremely tired and in need of rest, another drink or some other action.”

2. Red Bull

Ah, Red Bull: the official drink of dorm room cram sessions and dance club vodka cocktails everywhere. (Also, this guy.)