If black licorice is on your Halloween shopping list, this consumer Federal Drug Administration update warns that a little is better than a lot. In fact, too much can be fatal.

Black licorice, made from licorice root, contains a substance called glycyrrhizin. Too much glycyrrhizin can cause the body’s potassium levels to drop. This drop in potassium can lead to abnormal heart rhythms and high blood pressure. This can lead to congestive heart failure, especially for those over the age of 40.

A Massachusetts man collapsed and died last year after eating a bag and a half of black licorice every day for a few weeks, according to an AP news release. And in May 2019, the Canadian Medical Association Journal published an article about an 84-year old man admitted to the hospital with high blood pressure after drinking licorice root tea every day for 2 weeks.

Licorice root is grown mainly in Europe and Asia, and has been used to treat medical conditions since ancient times.

Today, licorice root is used by some people as a supplement for various conditions and can be found in lozenges, gargles and skin products, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. But, the NCCIH states that studies haven’t provided enough good data to support recommending licorice root for any medical condition.

The take home

If your sweet tooth or sore throat triggers you to reach for a licorice drop, keep these FDA-provided tips in mind:

  • Limit the amount of black licorice you eat at one time. The FDA says that eating as little as 2 ounces of black licorice a day for 2 weeks can lead to an abnormal heart rhythm.
  • If you experience an abnormal heart rhythm or feel weak after eating black licorice, stop eating the licorice and contact your medical provider immediately.
  • If you eat black licorice, tell you medical provider. Licorice root is known to interact with some medicines, as well as with herbs and other dietary supplements.

The good news is that many “licorice” products sold in the United States don’t contain licorice root. The ingredient list may include anise oil, which tastes and smells like licorice.