Caffeine – a molecule I first discovered as an important and psychoactive component of Coca Cola – is a drug with which I’ve had a great deal of experience over the last twelve years or so. By 7th grade, the last year of elementary school, I had already started to enjoy mochas and chocolate covered coffee beans. When I was in 12th grade, the last year of high school, I began consuming large amounts of Earl Gray tea, in aid of paper writing and exam prep. During my first year at UBC, I started drinking coffee. At first, it was a matter of alternating between coffee itself and something sweet and delicious, like Ponderosa Cake. By my fourth year, I was drinking more than 1L a day of black coffee: passing from French press to mug to bloodstream in accompaniment to the reading of The Economist.
Unfortunately, coffee doesn’t seem to work quite right in Oxford. My theory is that it’s a function of the dissolved mineral content in the water, which is dramatically higher than that in Vancouver.
As I understand it, caffeine has a relatively straightforward method of operation. After entering the body through the stomach and small intestine, it enters the bloodstream and then binds to adenosine receptors on the surface of cells without activating them. This eventually induces higher levels of epinephrine release, and hence physiological effects such as increased alertness. Much more extensive information is on Wikipedia.
From delicious chocolate covered coffee beans used to aid wakefulness during the LIFEboat flotillas to dozens of iced cappuccinos at Tim Horton’s with Fernando while planning the NASCA trip, I’ve probably consumed nearly one kilogram of pure caffeine during the last decade or so. After the two remaining weeks of this term – and thus this academic year – have come to a close, my tight embrace with the molecule will probably loosen a bit.