TORONTO - Consumption of high-caffeine energy drinks among high school students may be linked with mental health issues and substance use, says a new report, which calls for limits on teens' access to the beverages and reduction in the amount of caffeine they contain.
In a study of more than 8,200 high school students in Atlantic Canada, researchers at the University of Waterloo and Dalhousie University in Halifax found that about two-thirds of respondents reported consuming an energy drink in the previous year.
About one in five students said they drank the beverages once or more each month, said the study published in the journal Preventive Medicine.
"We also found something very interesting," said principal investigator Sunday Azagba, a researcher at the Propel Centre for Population Health Impact at the University of Waterloo in southwestern Ontario.
"The more intense users tend to be more likely to be depressed, they're more likely to have substance use," he said, referring to alcohol and marijuana.
"While it remains unclear why these associations exist, the trend is a concern because of the high rate of consumption among teenagers," said Azagba. "These drinks appeal to young people because of their temporary benefits like increased alertness, improved mood and enhanced mental and physical energy."
The study found that younger high school students were more likely to consume energy drinks than their older peers.
"Marketing campaigns appear designed to entice youth and young adults," said Azagba, noting that brand names like Monster Energy, Red Bull and Rockstar Energy can be appealing to young people.
"It's a dangerous combination, especially for those at an increased risk for substance abuse."
Energy drinks have been associated with a number of adverse health effects, including cardiovascular symptoms, sleep disorders, nervousness and nausea. The side-effects are caused by the beverages' high concentration of caffeine.
"Given the negative effects of excessive caffeine consumption as well as the coincident occurrence of the use of energy drinks and other negative behaviours in teens, the trends we are seeing are more than cause for concern," said Azagba.
In recent years energy drink consumption has skyrocketed. In the U.S. alone, sales are expected to reach $20 billion in 2013.
"In our opinion, at the very least, steps should be taken to limit teens' access to energy drinks, to increase public awareness and education about the potential harms of these drinks and to minimize the amount of caffeine available in each unit," said Azagba.
"This won't eliminate the problem entirely, but steps like these can help mitigate harm to our youth that appears to be associated with consumption of these drinks."
The study was based on data from the 2012 Student Drug Use Survey, consisting of a representative sample of high school students from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Newfoundland and Labrador.
Follow @SherylUbelacker on Twitter.