Coffee – The socially acceptable psychoactive drug

According to the International Coffee Organization, nearly 2 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide every day, and for our own small slice of that intake, we know what a rush that first morning cup can deliver. However, aside from those stimulating effects, caffeine has been heralded recently for providing an unexpected array of health benefits.

In 2013 Medical News Today reported on a study suggesting that consuming three cups of coffee a day may reduce the risk of liver cancer by 50%, while another study suggests that drinking four cups a day could halve the risk of mouth and throat cancer.

Another study published in 2013 from the Harvard School of Public Health suggested that drinking between two and four cups of coffee a day may reduce suicide risk in adults, while more recent data indicates that ingesting 200mg of caffeine each day may boost long-term memory and moderate intake of coffee may protect against type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke.

However, commenting on his 2013 caffeine study from The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Steven Meredith, a postdoctoral research fellow noted that perhaps due to widespread consumption (of coffee), many are forgetting that caffeine is a psychoactive substance – a drug that crosses the blood-brain barrier to stimulate the central nervous system.

He said, “Unlike most other psychoactive substances, caffeine use is socially acceptable, and the drug is widely used. In fact, caffeine is the most commonly used psychoactive substance in the world. Moreover, the vast majority of caffeine consumers use the substance regularly without apparent harm. These factors likely contribute to the perspective that caffeine is a benign substance that everyone can use without suffering any negative consequences.”

However Meredith also explained that the effects of caffeine can vary in each individual, which may explain why there are mixed messages surrounding whether caffeine is good or bad for us. This question of negative health consequences become particularly acute for those who experience caffeine withdrawal that can trigger symptoms such as headache, fatigue, drowsiness, depression, irritability, concentration difficulties, nausea and vomiting.

So while the message for the world’s most acceptable psychoactive substance appears to be “It’s good if you don’t overdo it”, for many the motivation for caffeine is simply driven by the joy of waking up to that first cup taste, and rush.

“Coffee first, schemes later”, as they say.