What We’ve Been Waiting For: Zero-Calorie, ‘Inhalable’ Caffeine

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Courtesy of AeroShot

(Updated) Ever wish you could mainline your coffee? Well, here’s the next best thing: AeroShot, a new product that delivers “inhalable” caffeinated puffs, and has got productivity-obsessed technophiles buzzing.

AeroShot’s delivery system is a light, plastic inhaler that shoots lime-flavored puffs of powdered caffeine to the tongue, where they are instantly absorbed. Each inhaler contains three puffs, providing a total of 100 mg of caffeine — about as much as in a large cup of coffee.

The product also contains 100% of the recommended daily allowance of niacin, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. It’s sweetened with stevia, an herbal sweetener that is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar and has no calories.

AeroShot was invented by Harvard biomedical engineering professor David Edwards, who previously created a no-calorie inhalable chocolate product called Le Whif. “I have a background in developing inhaled drugs and vaccines and I was fascinated about bringing that idea to a new way of eating,” says Edwards. “That’s how it began.”

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It took me a few tries to get the hang of using the inhaler (best to read the directions first and not to use it upside down!), but soon I got a dose of seriously sweet lime flavor and found my heart rate and mood lifted in that familiar, caffeinated way — but faster than with coffee. The dosing seemed slightly inexact — sometimes, the inhaler doesn’t load the powder quite right — but when it worked, the effect was rapid.

“Frequently, the first time people do it, they laugh,” says Edwards. “There’s something funny about the act, how it happens in your mouth.”

Since caffeine is a legal substance in foods, as are the included B vitamins, AeroShot did not require FDA approval. It will be sold as an energy supplement. The label says it is “not intended for people under 12, sensitive to caffeine, allergic to ragweed, taking medications, who are pregnant or who have a serious medical condition.” It also warns against using more than three AeroShots a day.

So, what’s the best and safest way to use caffeine? And does it really improve performance?

A 2010 Cochrane review of multiple studies of caffeine’s effect on shift workers found that it did indeed reduce the number of errors people made in tasks like driving or operating a flight simulator. It also improved memory, reasoning, perception and attention, compared with placebo. Sadly for us writers, however, caffeine did not seem to affect verbal functioning or language skills, at least in the studies included in the review.

Other research suggests that frequent dosing, with about 20 mg of caffeine an hour, is an efficient way to counter the effects of sleep deprivation and improve brain processing speed. If you’re using coffee, adding sugar may also help: one study found that it boosted performance more than caffeine alone.

As for the overall health effects of caffeine and coffee, that’s been debated for years. On balance, the research seems to find more benefits than harms associated with drinking coffee, including reduced risks of Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes and depression.

MORE: Coffee May Lower Women’s Risk of Depression

Is caffeine addictive? Certainly, it produces tolerance and withdrawal symptoms if it is stopped abruptly. But even though it is the most widely used drug in the world, few caffeine users exhibit signs of serious addiction — namely, compulsive drug-related behaviors despite negative consequences. That could be in part because caffeine is legal and easily and cheaply obtained. Or, it could be because the effects of caffeine use — especially in a hyperefficient society — are generally positive.

So, while previous products, like inhalable aerosolized alcohol, led to bans in multiple states, AeroShot seems more likely to garner praise (especially from employers — and editors).

The new product will hit stores in New York City and Boston in January and will be available online in several weeks, according to Edwards. The retail price is expected to be $2.99 per inhaler — cheaper than a Starbucks latte.

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Update [2:20 p.m.]: AeroShot’s price has been corrected; the company originally provided the wrong price information.

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com. Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

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