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When the word drugs come to mind, most people probably think first of cocaine, speed or maybe cannabis. The chances are very slim that someone will mention coffee. And yet caffeine is a drug, although a fairly unremarkable one. Because caffeine consumption is quite common and most people don't worry about the impact it has on their bodies and minds. Therefore, in this blog, we look at the unremarkable drug caffeine and the effects it has on us.

Caffeine: an unobtrusive drug

Caffeine is a stimulant substance that we like. Caffeine is also widely used in the Netherlands, and mainly through coffee. 66% of Dutch people drink a cup of the black gold every day and on average four cups of coffee are consumed per day. So you could say that the Netherlands runs on coffee!

Coffee (and other products containing caffeine) are therefore quite normal to consume. No one is surprised if you have coffee, tea or an energy drink, whether at home, at work or at the gym. But however normal it is that does not mean that caffeine does not have an effect on you. By the way, caffeine is not only found in the coffee and tea plant. There are about 30 different plant species that contain caffeine. Tea also contains caffeine, then it is called theine, and guarana contains guaranine. Examples of plants that contain this substance are:

  • Coffee
  • Tea
  • Guarana
  • Yerba maté
  • Cacao

So how much caffeine do you get when you take coffee or anything else that contains caffeine? A cup of coffee contains 88 mg of caffeine, and a cup of black tea contains an average of 38 mg. Below is a chart showing the average amount of caffeine that drinks or food contain:

  • Coffee: 88 mg
  • Energy drink: 75 mg
  • Yerba mate: 40 mg
  • Black tea: 38 mg
  • Green tea: 19 mg
  • Cola: 18 mg
  • Dark chocolate (30 g): 12 mg

The question, of course, is what are the effects of caffeine? We call it a drug, but is this substance really comparable to well-known drugs like cocaine or MDMA? The effects of caffeine are of course different, but there is no denying that the substance affects the body and mind.

Why you can call caffeine a drug

According to the Jellinek clinic, drugs are substances you consciously take (for a non-medical reason) that influence your consciousness and senses. They can sedate you, perk you up or alter your perception. Caffeine is one of the unremarkable drugs because it is an uplifting substance. It has a great impact on the body and mind.

The stimulant effects of caffeine

Most people use caffeine because of its stimulant effect. This effect comes from the fact that caffeine has a similar structure to adenosine. It can therefore use the adenosine receptors, which means adenosine itself can no longer have an effect. The brain no longer perceives adenosine. But this neurotransmitter has a calming effect. So without this substance, nerve activity remains elevated, stimulating the pituitary gland.

The pituitary gland signals the body to prepare for increased activity. The adrenal gland starts releasing more adrenaline, making you feel alert and awake. The liver releases more sugar, giving you more energy. Under the influence of caffeine, your heart rate goes up, and your breathing speeds up. Many people find that they can concentrate better and that their stamina is better when they have consumed caffeine.

Impact on sleep

Those who consume caffeine feel less tired. This is also one of the reasons why it has a negative effect on your sleep. Your body makes more and more of the neurotransmitter adenosine during the day. This little substance makes you feel tired and sleepy at the end of the day. As you could read earlier, caffeine binds to adenosine receptors. The downside, then, is that while you are making adenosine, the neurotransmitter cannot bind to the receptors.

So you are not going to feel tired, and many people who use caffeine therefore have trouble falling asleep or sleeping through. Not only does caffeine cause you to sleep less, it also causes you to have lower-quality sleep. Caffeine is one of the main causes of sleep problems.

The disadvantages of caffeine

There are benefits to using caffeine, otherwise not so many people would use it. But at more than four cups of coffee a day, caffeine already brings more disadvantages than benefits. Here are the disadvantages of caffeine:

  • Negative impact on your sleep pattern
  • Can be psychologically addictive
  • You build up tolerance
  • Can cause restlessness and anxiety
  • Withdrawal symptoms when you stop using caffeine

Caffeine addictive or not?

It turns out that caffeine is not actually addictive. However, you can become mentally dependent on it because you have become accustomed to its stimulating effects. People often say they need their cup of coffee to get started in the morning. But that craving for caffeine is usually not so strong that you really can't live without it.

However, you can develop tolerance to caffeine. You usually need more and more of the substance to keep feeling the stimulating effects. In addition, you may also suffer withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly stop using caffeine. The more caffeine you normally use, the more intense they are. Most people experience headaches, difficulty concentrating, feelings of lethargy and irritability and difficulty waking up.

The comparison with drugs

Calling caffeine a drug may seem intense. Yet, this substance is moderately addictive and has a lot of impact on your mental and physical well-being. It may be wise to take a look at your caffeine consumption. With a daily intake of 100 mg a day (i.e. a little more than a cup a day), withdrawal symptoms may already occur if you try to stop. Research suggests that possibly 30% of caffeine users are dependent on their daily intake of coffee, energy drinks, chocolate or tea.

What do you think, can you quit caffeine whenever you want? Or should you not think of life without this fine pick-me-up? Experiencing how you feel without caffeine can be enlightening. It can do wonders for your sleep, health and emotional well-being. On the other hand, moderate caffeine consumption can't do a whole lot of harm, either. We'll leave it to you to decide what's best for you.