Should caffeine be our best friend?
It has been said that a dog is truly a man’s best friend. Loyal and loving; this can certainly be true for many people, but for university students a restriction on pets means looking for something a little bit different.
For a large proportion or students, their best friend is called 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione. A white crystalline substance extracted from several varieties of nut or leaf, which can allow increased awareness among other positive effects due to its stimulant properties. On the negative side, this popular substance has been known to have side effect, including increased anxiety and there is a possibility of overdosing.
If anyone is worried about the rise of the sinister sounding 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione, then it does have a more popular ‘street’ name should the need arise to identify it. It is in fact, more commonly known as ‘Caffeine’.
Many readers will certainly be familiar with this substance but despite the fact that its use is so widespread, very little is known about this by the general public. For instance, the aforementioned possibility of overdosing is not widely known.
While this is common sense, as the very definition of ‘too much’ can be applied to anything, when it refers to psychoactive drugs such as caffeine, the word bears more resemblance.
The actual dose defined as lethal for caffeine is 14000mg, or 140 cups in a 24 hour period. Other myths include the ‘fact’ that caffeine is not addictive. In fact this is exactly the opposite.
Caffeine’s method of action is as an analogous antagonist neurotransmitter, which means it has the same molecular shape as another molecule in the brain. In this case, the molecule that caffeine can take the place of is called adenosine, an inhibitor which acts to block the transmission of other neurotransmitters like dopamine.
Therefore, caffeine will increase the action of dopamine and other excitatory neurotransmitters, which is what gives caffeine its stimulant properties and has acted as the saviour of many an essay or late night study session. This increased action of dopamine also affects receptors in the brain known as NMDA receptors. These receptors act as gates that allow the increased excitatory or ‘stimulating effects’.
However, if dopamine goes too far above the norm, these receptors act to balance this out and ready themselves for another large dose of dopamine. They have a mechanism that allows them to create more of themselves, which is great if the dose is sustained but if not it can lead to dependence and addiction.
This is not to say that caffeine is dangerous, like everything, caffeine has its negatives as well as its positives. It has been proven that caffeine reduces the chances of liver and colorectal cancer as well as cardiovascular disease. Not to mention that caffeine has been linked to the reduced chances of diseases such as cirrhosis and Parkinson’s Disease.
Caffeine is more than just the energy to power through the night when it is most needed.