Wake up and smell the caffeine

New York Magazine has a wonderful article on the culture, controversies and pharmacology of caffeine – the world’s most popular psychoactive drug.

Ranging from the recent upturn in coffee’s popularity and its inevitable effect on our caffeine consumption to the science of its neurological effects, the article manages to capture some of the key debates about the tremor inducing buzz substance.

One particularly interesting part touches on research that suggests that, like the effect of nicotine, the lift for regular users may be nothing more than withdrawal symptoms being soothed to bring us back to baseline.

That all said, what if the uptick in energy, alertness, and smarts we feel after drinking a cup of coffee isn‚Äôt a real uptick at all? What if it‚Äôs an illusion? A group of cutting-edge caffeine researchers believes that might be the case…

When Griffiths and Juliano teamed up to review 170 years of caffeine research, much of which confirmed the drug’s reputation as a brain booster, they noticed a pattern: Most studies had been done on caffeine users who, in the interest of scientific rigor, were deprived of the stimulant overnight. Because caffeine withdrawal can commence in just twelve hours, by the time each study’s jonesing test subjects were given either caffeine or a placebo, they had begun to suffer headaches and fatigue.

For the half that received the stimulant—poof!—their withdrawal symptoms vanished. The other half remained uncaffeinated, crabby, and logy, and guess which group scored higher on cognitive tests time after time? The boost the test subjects who got the caffeine felt may have simply been a function of having been deprived of the drug.

Link to ‘The Coffee Junkie‚Äôs Guide to Caffeine Addiction’.

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