Caffeine: The World's Favourite Psychoactive drug

By Serena Prieto

Caffeine, a substance consumed daily by 80% of the world’s population, has become the only socially acceptable psychoactive drug. The natural stimulant is found in coffee, chocolate and soft drinks, all of which are available to buy in college. So, what do you know about its effects?

Fifteen minutes after consumption the effects of caffeine are felt and can last for up to 6 hours. Studies suggest that for an adult, having 200-400mg of caffeine each day (the equivalent of about 2-4 cups of coffee) offers benefits that outweigh any side-effects. However, as teenagers are more sensitive to the negative effects of caffeine, including heightened anxiety and dehydration, the limit is 100mg (just 1 cup of coffee). Caffeine combats tiredness and improves concentration by blocking the adenosine receptors that are responsible for relaxing the brain. As a consequence, dopamine levels are temporarily increased, which helps improve your mood.

It has been found that caffeine also has long term advantages like reducing the risk of illnesses including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and type two diabetes. In spite of the benefits, there are also associated risks. As an unregulated drug, these are usually a result of having too much caffeine, but the same effects can occur even when you are within the limit.

Caffeine is a diuretic, causing the body to eliminate water. This means it is easy to become dehydrated.

Although caffeine can relieve fatigue in the short term, if consumed regularly it cannot replenish energy and can disrupt sleeping patterns.

The effects of caffeine become apparent when withdrawing from it. Symptoms of withdrawal include headaches, nausea and irritability, which are particularly severe after excessive or prolonged periods of intake. They usually occur about a day or so after cutting out caffeine and should stop after a week. In order to avoid this, it is recommended that you cut down on caffeine gradually.

This isn’t to say that caffeine is dangerous or that you should avoid any products containing it. However, it is important to recognise the potential harm that consuming too much can have both in the short and long term. This means it is important to know how much your caffeine intake is over time so that you stay within recommended limits. As with anything, moderation is better than excess.