Issues from eating too much black licorice are uncommon, but this isn’t some Halloween trick either.
fda warns against black licorice overdose
Credit: Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Getty Images

As we grow older, the things that scared us during Halloweens past just don’t have the same impact they used to. Ghosts and witches and zombies—all these fictional ghouls simply can’t compete with the horrors we face in real life. For instance, here’s one: Did you know that too much black licorice can literally kill you? Yeah, that’s not made up: It comes straight from the Food and Drug Administration. They even made a YouTube video about it. As if you needed one more thing to worry about as you’re lying in bed at night.

First, the good news: It would take a not insignificant amount of true black licorice eaten over a long period of time for the candy to be deadly. “If you're 40 or older, eating 2 ounces of black licorice a day for at least two weeks could land you in the hospital with an irregular heart rhythm,” the FDA states. Couple this with the other good news that most people aren’t eating any black licorice at all, and you probably have very little to actually be concerned about. Still, there’s something generally unsettling that a common candy can have that effect at all—especially if you haven’t heard this news before.

So what is black licorice’s deadly secret? “FDA experts say black licorice contains the compound glycyrrhizin, which is the sweetening compound derived from licorice root,” the government agency explains on its website. “Glycyrrhizin can cause potassium levels in the body to fall. When that happens, some people experience abnormal heart rhythms, as well as high blood pressure, edema (swelling), lethargy, and congestive heart failure.” The FDA also says that it received “a report” of someone who “had a problem” after eating the candy last year, but no mention is made of anyone literally dying from licorice overdose. Furthermore, the agency says that “potassium levels are usually restored with no permanent health problems when consumption of black licorice stops.”

For the record, the FDA also points out, “Many ‘licorice’ or ‘licorice flavor’ products manufactured in the United States do not contain any licorice. Instead, they contain anise oil, which has the same smell and taste.”

Still, the FDA’s official stance is that “no matter what your age, don’t eat large amounts of black licorice at one time,” and “if you have been eating a lot of black licorice and have an irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness, stop eating it immediately and contact your healthcare provider.” Also, the agency warns, “Black licorice can interact with some medications, herbs and dietary supplements. Consult a healthcare professional if you have questions about possible interactions with a drug or supplement you take.”

In its YouTube video, the FDA then wraps things up by saying, the “FDA ‘witches’ you a happy and safe Halloween.” Um, you mind, FDA?! We’re kinda on edge right now!