A study conducted by Northwestern University showed people are now getting high on and abusing a legal substance: caffeine.

"The study was a retrospective review of poison center cases of all caffeine ingestions," said Dr. Danielle McCarthy, who conducted the study. "We collected the information on all cases mentioning caffeine products and analyzed it to look for trends regarding the type of caffeine ingested, the co-ingestants and the outcomes of the patients."

With more than 500 new energy drinks launched last year, caffeine has become the most widely used drug in the world, according to the study.

"One of the many reasons we found this topic interesting is because caffeine is ubiquitous, and many people do not consider it a drug," said McCarthy, a third-year emergency medicine resident. "Caffeine is a drug."

In Chicago alone, the poison control center reported 250 cases of caffeine-induced medical complications between 2002 and 2004. According to the study, 13 percent of the patients were hospitalized because of caffeine ingestion.

Although adults of all ages are known to use caffeine, it is mainly abused by young adults who want to stay awake or even get high, McCarthy said.

Although caffeinated drinks were shown to be dangerous, some NU students still consume them in order to be energized. Evan Kolesnick said he drinks a Full Throttle energy drink every day to help him wake up faster and concentrate throughout the day.

"I'm sure I could go a few days without one, but it would be an inconvenience," said the freshman studying communications. "I'm not a morning person, and it helps me wake up in the morning. I just feel more focused after I've had one."

Although the study uncovered some of the dangers of caffeine, more attention is needed, McCarthy said.

"The study is important to bring attention to the topic, but is only a first step," she said. "Much more research needs to be done to evaluate the possible dangers of caffeine alone and in combination with medications, both prescription and nonprescription as well as illicit drugs and alcohol."

This story was filed by UWIRE, which offers reporting from more than 800 colleges and universities worldwide. Read more at www.uwire.com.