A ‘psychoactive substance’ is a terminology used to classify chemical substances that have the power to alter a person’s mental state. They do so by changing the way the nervous system and brain works. This leads to a person feeling intoxicated, which is often the number one reason why people consume psychoactive substances.
Caffeine is found in a wide range of places including certain fruits, leaves, and seeds of plants such as coffee and tea plants. It can also be produced in a controlled clinical setting. Caffeine is present in a wide range of food and beverage items such as chocolate, tea, coffee, cocoa, and energy drinks.
But how did a psychoactive substance become so mainstream?
Author, Murray Carpenter notes that people have been guilty of caffeine consumption one way or the other for thousands of years. People grew it, sometimes used cacao beans as a form of currency, and also used it in rituals of human sacrifice.
Unlike other substances that are classified as psychoactive drugs, caffeine has been socially accepted and is an okay thing to consume. Caffeine is the most widely used psychoactive substance in the world. Caffeine consumption actually affects the same parts of the brain as cocaine. However, the ways in which caffeine affects the brain is completely different.
The World Health Organization actually included coffee in its list of carcinogens in 1991. It was subsequently exonerated from the list after promising research found no correlation of coffee with an increased risk of cancer, but found instead results linking consumption of coffee to a decreased risk of cancer.
Have you ever wondered how coffee helps us stay awake and boost our mood?
Well, the brain has a certain molecule called adenosine. Scientists believe this molecule to help us go to sleep at night. What caffeine does is it latches onto these molecules and pushes them out of the way. This is why we feel more alert and awake after a cup of coffee.
However, adenosine catches onto this act and as a result, produces more molecules. The more an individual consumes cups of coffee the lesser are the effects of caffeine on the adenosine receptors. Our body looks to keep a balance, so it increases its adenosine production.
This is the reason why we notice our morning cup turn into two cups, then three, and before we know it we drink the whole coffee pot ourselves. The more adenosine molecules we have in our brain, the more caffeine we require to keep them at bay.
A cup of coffee also helps boost your mood. This takes place in the same way that it helps us stay alert, by blocking adenosine receptors.
There have also been interesting studies about the health benefits associated with caffeine. For example, how drinking more cups of coffee can be linked to a longer life span. Also, there has been a study that indicates users of coffee to have a lesser chance of depression.
Like any psychoactive substance, coffee does have its negative effects too. Younger regular users can experience an adverse effect on their brain development just like with any other psychoactive substance.
A study done by Durham University concluded that people who consume caffeine in higher doses are three times more likely to have extra-sensory experiences than people who consume it in lower doses, indicating hallucinogenic properties.
If caffeine is addictive or not is largely quite a debated topic. People not in favour of this claim that they consume it for the pleasure and taste of the product. Whereas, people who are in favour simply point out how many people rely on their morning brew before they can function properly. They claim that people have a risk of physical dependence if they are regular users of coffee.
Fun Fact: In 1911, Coca-Cola was sued by the US government claiming that the use of caffeine in their soft drinks was a public health hazard. Coca-Cola won the legal battle in court.
Caffeine is a psychoactive drug that has infiltrated most of our lives. People consume caffeinated products without knowing it is a psychoactive compound. However, it is important for everyone to understand all facets of this substance before they decide to ingest it.
That being said, your daily dose of caffeine is probably nowhere near the harmful or toxic level required for you to experience any adverse effects of caffeine - even if you tried really hard. Making coffee probably the safest psychoactive compound.
So, by all means, go ahead and make yourself your daily cup of deliciousness!