The dangers of caffeine

I have experimented with various drugs over the years, and I only became dependent on one. I first started this habit in my first year of university. One strong cup of coffee a day isn’t too much, I thought. But before long, whenever I skipped that morning coffee, I would get a raging headache by the evening. The headache evolved into nausea, and by about 8 or 9 o’clock I would stop functioning.

This was physical dependence, not psychological dependence. Anything pleasurable can incur psychological dependence, including shopping and gaming. The pleasure is so frequent that the brain is tricked into thinking that that’s all you need to survive. But I didn’t gain any pleasure from coffee. Eventually it didn’t even make me feel more awake. My body was becoming more chemically dependent on caffeine, and when it didn’t get caffeine, it decided to give up and shut down.

For most of university, the only reason I drank coffee was to avoid feeling like absolute shit in the evenings. But in my final year, I succeeded in weaning myself off it. Drinking lemsip helped with the nausea, although for a while I was scared of becoming dependent on lemsip! Now I avoid coffee like the plague, and I’m very uneasy when I have a Coca-Cola.

One woman from New Zealand drank 10 litres of Coca-Cola per day, which is twice to safe limit of caffeine. Natasha Harris’ teeth had been removed from decay, she had heart problems and eventually she died in 2010 from a cardiac arrest. Clearly a case like this is extremely rare, but it goes to show the potential dangers. Her coroner called on soft drinks companies to display clearer warnings about the risks of too much sugar and caffeine.

Clearly my dependency didn’t have an enormous impact on my life. Most people who experience dependency have a much more horrible time. And I’m certainly not going to try and persuade anyone to avoid or stop drinking coffee. I’m writing this article to answer this question: am I glad that the drug I became dependent on was legal?

It’s possible that if it was illegal, I would never come into contact with it. But the motivation to drink coffee would be the same – to stay awake to help me with my studies – so I might try and seek it out. However if I was a coffee drinker, I might not have access to the quantity needed to become dependent on it.

But given that I did become dependent, obviously having easy access to it made my life easier. And that easy access didn’t prevent me from recognising that something was wrong or prevent me from eventually beating the habit.

If it was illegal, I would face certain dangers. For example, I wouldn’t know what was in my coffee. Unregulated coffee producers wouldn’t care about my health, and could drench the beans in pesticide for fear of a ruined crop. And what if my suppliers cut the coffee with something else to keep their costs down?

Because of the lack of transparency in the market, and because of the risk burdened by the producers, traffickers and dealers, coffee would be more expensive than it is in reality. As ludicrous as it sounds, what if I became indebted to my coffee dealer and was forced to become a dealer myself? What if I went from having to do business with violent people to becoming violent myself?  In the shadowy and unpredictable world of the illicit drug market, one has to be ruthless to survive.

And on top of all that, I would fear running into the law. That, combined with the stigma that the law would generate, would make me think twice about asking for help if I needed it.

Of course this is getting absurdly hypothetical. And legalising/regulating heroin or crystal meth in the same way as coffee may not be the way forward. But one thing is certain: I am extremely glad that society has a liberal and tolerant approach to coffee, and I wish that was extended to other drugs too.