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Blackout in a Can

News & Features | November 15, 2010

Whether or not we’ve tried it, every college student has heard of the phenomenon that is Four Loko. Four Loko is a caffeinated, alcoholic energy drink that comes in flavors ranging from Blue Raspberry to Orange Blend. The drink is sold in a large can and boasts an average alcohol content of 12.5%, but this can vary slightly by state. Lately, there has been much controversy over the drink because the mixture of caffeine and alcohol can be dangerous to its users, allowing them to drink for longer periods of time without getting tired. Yet the crazy stories of the college students who’ve tried the stuff show no sign of slowing this loko phenomenon down.

In early November, both Northeastern University and Boston College employed campus-wide safety alerts, advising the student body to avoid Four Loko for its huge health risks. In October, Ramapo College of New Jersey banned Four Loko after more than 20 of the students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning from the drink in a single evening. A similar event took place at Central Washington University, prompting a lot of public attention.

Phusion, the company that manufactures Four Loko, has thus faced very bad press. Concerns have been raised about everything from the general idea of mixing caffeine and alcohol in a single beverage to the way their products are marketed. Speaking about to the drink’s appearance, one Tufts student said, “Drinking never looked so middle school.”

In response to the concern, Phusion issued a statement to the public in October detailing the company’s mission. It argued that, “Consuming caffeine and alcohol together has been done safely for years.” From the statement, it is unclear whether Phusion accepts any blame for recent safety incidents on college campuses or whether they blame the irresponsibility of consumers.

Given the makeup of Four Loko, it is hard to imagine that anyone can truly consume the drink “responsibly.” The sweet taste and the high alcohol content in a single can make it difficult to realize the quick effects of the drink. It’s also speculated that the mixture of caffeine and alcohol can help convince consumers they are safe to drive.

But despite the worries in the news, Four Loko continues to be a popular drink among Tufts students and on many other campuses. The drink is practically legendary. Some students seem to be obsessed with the idea of a sweet and cheap way to get drunk, while others have been too afraid to try it. A friend of mine told me, “It’s blackout in a can.” Evidently, many Tufts students feel the same way. When asked about the first few words that came to mind when thinking of their last Four Loko experience, many students mentioned “blackout” as a key word. Among other common words were “ridiculous,” “crazy,” and “unpredictable.”

According to the students asked, Four Loko’s price tag, hovering around $2.50, seemed to be fueling much of its popularity. Yet among its downfalls were its taste, the hangover, and its possible health implications.

A certain culture has formed around Four Loko. A student from Northeastern University (apparently unaffected by the previously mentioned health advisory) created a site called The Loko List, where individuals can post their anecdotes and experiences with the drink and detail whatever shenanigans ensued. The site bears the headline, “You’ve found The Loko List, a collection of wild stories which all begin in a 23.5 oz can.”

Only time will tell where Four Loko is headed. Its sudden popularity combined with the growing health issues ensure that it will stay in the news for a while. For now, many Tufts students will continue with their crazy nights, enduring the potentially bad tastes and unpleasant mornings for the stories they will tell of their lokofueled nights.