I am here to present the unpopular opinion that caffeine, the world’s most popular drug, is doing you more harm than good. Students chug their way through gallons of the stuff in futile attempts to stay alert through the next page of quantum mechanics or macroeconomics. We drink so much that the Beeston Sainsbury’s stock red bull in the “seasonal goods” aisle during exam time.

The reasoning for this is evident, but whilst psycho-stimulant drugs seemingly are the perfect answer to increasing wakefulness alertness and memory retention, unfortunately our brains do not work like that.

In actual fact, every cup of coffee, every tablet of Ritalin, every line of speed which we use to push onward represents nothing but a neurotransmitter based loan, requiring us to take more and more each time with an increasingly crippling comedown. If this seems hard to believe, just watch a seasoned coffee drinker try to go a day without. Spoiler: they won’t.

Every cup of coffee, every tablet of Ritalin, every line of speed which we use to push onward represents nothing but a neurotransmitter based loan.

Whilst it may seem harsh to compare the undoubtedly milder caffeine to other harder and more illegal stimulants, I see no real difference. Personally, I myself am a seasoned user of ephedrine and Ritalin, amphetamine based “study drugs”, mainly because my caffeine experience consists of more time spent urinating than studying.

This seems controversial, and many people think of illegal smart drugs as cheating. However, is caffeine any different? Even in the Olympics, two medallists have been stripped of their titles for elevated levels of caffeine in their blood.

To qualify, nobody is suggesting abstinence: Caffeine can most certainly be used effectively, and the vast majority of us do so. However, much like alcohol, a large number of us don’t. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders classifies “caffeine intoxication” occurring above and beyond a mere 400 milligrams, with effects including, but not limited to:

“Fidgeting, excitement, anxiety, insomnia, flushing of the face, increased urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, rambling flow of thought and speech irritability, irregular or rapid heartbeat, mania, depression, lapses in judgement, disorientation, disinhibition, delusions, hallucinations, psychosis and breakdown of skeletal muscle tissue.”

Whilst it may seem harsh to compare the undoubtedly milder caffeine to other harder and more illegal stimulants, I see no real difference.

That’s quite the list of symptoms, especially considering that a can of monster contains 160mg and a tall Starbucks coffee 240mg. What’s even scarier is that a single venti brewed coffee from Starbucks contains 405mg, just enough to put you over the limit for intoxication. Make sure you don’t have two.

The reason why you don’t see all the midnight Hallward-goers having some kind of psychosis induced heart attack is because of the way caffeine works. It blocks the chemical responsible for making you feel tired, essentially cutting the brakes on your brain and hence causing a heightened state of alertness.

The problem is that over time the more you use, the harder your body tries to put you to sleep. This is why after a while you will need more and more just to feel normal, and be completely incapacitated if you go clean.

What’s the takeaway from this? Respect caffeine, like you would any other drug. There’s a fine line between use and abuse, and it’s easier than you think to cross it. Speedily.

Tony Anchovy

Image courtesy of Umer Shablb via Flickr

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