Lab Experiment Accidentally Gave Students Caffeine Dose Equal To 300 Coffees

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A UK university is paying the price for a screw-up of heart-palpitating proportions after they gave two students a dose of caffeine equivalent to 300 cups of coffee during a botched lab experiment.

The experiment was carried out at Northumbria University faculty of Health and Life Sciences in March 2015. The case recently appeared at Newcastle Crown Court, as reported by local news Sunderland Echo.

Very quickly after receiving the dose, the 20-year-old sports science students suffered "violent" side effects, including dizziness, blurred vision, physical shaking, and a rapid heartbeat. They were then admitted to intensive care for dialysis, a medical procedure used to remove waste and excess water from the blood, usually used in people for reduced kidney function. The pair remained in intensive care for several days.

Their experiment was meant to test the effect of caffeine on physical workouts. As part of the experiment, the two men drank a solution of orange juice, water, and caffeine powder. Confusion occurred because the lab worked out the doses on a mobile phone calculator and they accidentally moved the decimal point. The university also said they previously used caffeine tablets for these kinds of experiments, but switched to pure caffeine powder over the past few years.

The blunder meant the students were dosed up with 30.7 and 32 grams (1 and 1.1 ounces) of caffeine each, instead of 0.3 grams (0.01 ounces). For perspective, a typical coffee-shop brew contains around 0.1 grams (0.003 ounces) of caffeine and people have previously died from having as little as 18 grams (0.6 ounces).

Northumbria University told the court it was “deeply, genuinely sorry” and had to dish out £400,000 ($504,100) to the students in compensation for the highly unpleasant and "life-threatening" experience.

The two men both suffered weight loss following the mess-up and one of them reported short-term memory loss. Thankfully, they’re now back to a healthy state again. 

During recent years, there’s been a rise of people using caffeine powder as a performance enhancement drug to stay mentally focused and sharp. This story serves as a reminder that caffeine still shouldn’t be messed with, even though it is the world’s favorite psychoactive drug,

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