Getting wired, the old fashioned way

posted in: Writing | 2

So I’ve started drinking coffee.

This may seem a completely mundane statement — akin to saying something like “I am wearing underwear” or “I drove my car to work today” — so perhaps I should provide a little background:

I generally avoid caffeine and other mind-altering substances (always have, and likely always will be, drug-free — provided you don’t count alcohol :P), and I just could never get into the flavor of coffee. I always felt that if I wanted to drink something that tasted like the inside of a sweaty shoe, I’d just go straight to the source and save myself the $1.95.

That said, I have, in the past, occasionally partaken in various novelty coffee drinks — Lattes, Cappucinos, Mochas, etc. When Charlie’s Coffee Bar & Gallery was open (long ago, in the before-time), I would now and then treat myself to a sweet drink. But as a general rule, I would tell them to “hold the espresso.” Not for any moral or sociological reasons or anything — but just because my body is so damned sensitive to caffeine!

See — this is how I figure it — I drink so little caffeine my brain is uber-intolerant to its effects and so the tiniest amount has a really potent effect on me. Seriously. If I even so much as smell espresso, I’m hyper for 20 minutes.

So needless to say, when I drank a 20 oz “Seventh Heaven” (a flavored coffee novelty beverage that contains TWO SHOTS OF ESPRESSO) from Bear Creek coffee here on campus, I was bouncing off the walls; almost literally. On two separate occasions I literally ran to the bathroom — not because I really had to go, but just because I was burbling over with energy.

So bottom line: Caffeine kicks my ass.

You may or may not be asking yourself “then why the hell do you drink it?”

As I have mentioned in the past, my life is enriched by Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder. It’s a love/hate relationship. I can multi-task really well, but have difficulty concentrating and self-motivating to do things that I don’t particularly excite me (like some of my work projects, especially when they get boring or difficult). In the past, I have been prescribed a number of medications, one of which was Adderall (which contains the “mixed salts of three amphetamines”).

I used Adderall for two weeks, as prescribed. I had to take two pills, once at 8am and another at noon. It was amazing, I noticed immediate results: I felt motivated — I wanted to accomplish things, do work, I didn’t care what it was; Just let me at it! The downside was that the amphetamine was so potent after two weeks I felt cracked out like Amy Winehouse. I had to stop taking it or I felt like I’d go crazy. That was about 7 years ago.

I’ve flirted with the idea of getting back on meds, but perhaps a slightly less potent prescription (half-dosage maybe?). I don’t need a shove, just a light push.  (Adderall is more like a gun-to-the-head) Caffeine, via coffee, seemed like a natural substitute.

Caffeine, in brief

Caffeine is an alkaloid (a Purine-based organic compound) that naturally occurs in plant matter. Depending on the source, it may be masquerading under the monikers “Guaranine”, “Theine”, or “Mateine”, although these all refer to exactly the same compound. While humans use it medicinally or recreationally, for much smaller organisms (for example, the tiny insect fellows that munch on plants) it can be inconvenient or even fatal.

When consumed by humans, however, caffeine stimulates the central nervous system. The way it works is kind of counter-intuitive though — it works kind of like an anti-depressant, binding to the Adenosine receptor sites to indirectly prevent the metabolization of certain neurotransmitters including epinephrine (more commonly known as “Adrenaline”). In other words: the presence of caffeine in your brain allows your brain to receive the “benefits” (or “penalties”, if you’re trying to sleep) of the neurotransmitter responsible for alertness for a longer period of time. It doesn’t actually “create” more Adrenaline or Dopamine, it just keeps those chemicals around longer. This is essentially the same way that SSRI anti-depressants such as Prozac function: keep the Serotonin around longer so your brain gets more mileage out of it.

Of course, over time, the body will start to seek homeostasis by increasing the number of Adenosine receptors in the brain. This is why long-time coffee drinkers find that they have to drink more and more coffee over time to get the same benefits. This is also why Caffeine withdrawal happens.

Imagine that your brain is a factory assembly line, and that your Adenosine receptors are factory workers. When you drink caffeinated beverages, each caffeine molecule distracts one worker, preventing it from doing its work. The body naturally responds by “hiring” more workers, in an effort to meet its “quota”. If you were to suddenly stop drinking coffee, the once-distracted workers would now be free to do their jobs, and all of a sudden your Adenosine is being utilized that much faster (ultimately resulting in a faster turn-around on your Adrenaline).

In an average adult, caffeine has a half-life of 3-4 hours. (So after 3.5 hours your body has metabolized 50%, after 7 hours 75%, after 10.5 hours 88%, and so on). It is metabolized in your liver by the wunder-enzyme family Cytochrome P450. (CYP450 is responsible for breaking down a lot of stuff that would otherwise be very toxic to us) If you’re trying to “get off the horse” and break out of caffeine intolerance, 1 to 2 weeks with very low caffeine intake + ibuprofen should do it.

In a 7 oz serving of normal coffee, there is anywhere from 80-135mg of caffeine. So in my 20 oz Black Bear that I’m drinking right now, there’s probably close to 400 mg of caffeine in it.  (Comparable to 1.5 Jolt Colas or about 7-8 Mountain Dews.)

The result though? After experimenting with this for 3-4 days, I have to admit that it helps. I can focus a bit better and am more motivated to do things that may otherwise disinterest me. I don’t feel nearly as much like Amy Winehouse as I did on Adderall, and at least this is more accessible. 🙂

[mostly cursorily sourced from the WP]

2 Responses

  1. JW

    Adderall… Ahh.. Yes.

    Heard of that :^)

    Being afflicted with ADHD as well, have found it IMPOSSIBLE to have a meaningful conversation with one person at a bar or other noisy place. I hear everything, including the person talking to me… so.. thats why I’m not typicall found in Bars!

    I took Adderal for a spell, and found it did motivate intensely. My disposition became too snippy and readily irritable. I cut my dose in half (already low) and it was better, but… I weaned off.

    Overall, it was a very positive experience. Good to know strengths and weaknessess.

    As far as coffee and caffeine goes, its like any drug. It takes energy from later to use now.

    Some may recall Wimpys line: “I will gladly pay you Wednesday for a Hamburger today!”

    Of late, I have adopted a no-coffee before Noon approach, and that seems to work OK. Eating a sensible (ie: not sugar-glob-cereal, but a slow burn carb source) breakfast works (as long as I can do it while driving!!!).

    Our bodies are marvelous sugar machines (or thats what our brains eat). We also need more complicated proteins and compounds that traditionally (over the past million or so) have been found in our diets.

    Now that we are masters of our own domains, and diets, its FOOLISH to push in junk that satisfies only our satiety centers only. Once we establish a stream of proper nutrients and water, our minds can have access to a properly functioning body.

    Does anyone else sense the split between the brain being and the body being? To me, two parts of a Human Being (contrasted by a Human Been). Our concious brain will do things to our body that our body doesn’t want? Keeping these two sides in balance is a prime directive.

    Call it maturation? Call it co-operation. We live in the same house!


  2. Aaron

    The Coffee thing has been helpful — it helps my motivation a little bit, and like all things, I exercise it in moderation. I’ll drink a cup a couple times a week, but not with any regularity. I figure as long as I give my brain some downtime to follow the uptime, my brain will keep its adenosine receptors in check.