Coffee – The Wonder Drug?

License: CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 Credit: Yann via Flickr

Every morning, scores of us effectively wake up in two steps: firstly when we crash back from the peaceful planes of sleep, and secondly when we gulp down the brain-activating drink that is coffee. Why is it that coffee has such a potent cognitive effect, does it merely keep us awake or is there more to it? It is to do with the fact that it contains the world’s most popular drug. Caffeine is the psychoactive drug found throughout coffee – it is wholly responsible for the effects we feel when we drink it. In high doses it is toxic, but unless you’re the size of an insect or a participant of a binge coffee-drinking competition, then there’s no cause for concern. So what effect does caffeine cause?

Caffeine does not exert its effect directly to give us that mental boost. Thus it is what is called an antagonist; this means it will readily bind to a receptor (the proteins which receive stimuli within your cells), but lacks efficacy, so it can only cause an effect by inhibiting another receptor-stimulating chemical (the agonist). Caffeine’s main agonist is adenosine, and this agonist triggers the feeling of tiredness – caffeine’s presence inhibits this by binding to the adenosine receptor. By analogy, caffeine and adenosine both fit into the (receptor) lock, but only adenosine can unlock the door of drowsiness.

There is a massive amount of evidence for caffeine’s use in increasing wakefulness1. Furthermore, studies have shown evidence that caffeine may also be able to stimulate your brain function and help you retain information2. Some studies have shown improved cognitive effects on consumption of as little as a single cup of coffee! So take solace in the notion that your morning coffee will be doing as much work as you hope to do that day3.

Edited by Richard Murchie



  1. and-sleep/
  2. diet-may-boost-memory-thinking-skills-alcohols-effect-uncertain-201406187219
  3. If
    you want to read more on coffee’s effects please see of-coffee-your-brain-on-caffeine/

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