Is caffeine considered a drug? Yes, it is. There’s no doubt about it. In fact, caffeine is the world’s most widely used psychoactive drug.
But a drug isn’t inherently good or bad. So, just because caffeine fits the definition, it doesn’t mean you need to quit your morning coffee or tea habit – far from it! Read on to learn what makes caffeine a drug, the risks of addiction, and how to enjoy this popular stimulant safely.
Does the FDA define caffeine as a drug?
Yes, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines caffeine as a drug. The FDA definition of a drug is long and broad, but the relevant segment includes “A substance (other than food) intended to affect the structure or any function of the body (1).”
No one who has consumed a cup of coffee to perk up in the morning will deny that caffeine affects the function of their body.
The only FDA-approved use of caffeine as a pharmaceutical is for the treatment and prevention of breathing problems and lung disease in premature infants. However, due to caffeine’s mild side effects, it has many off-label uses, like the treatment of migraine headaches and improved athletic performance.
What category of drug is caffeine?
Is caffeine a psychoactive drug? Caffeine is a stimulant of the central nervous system found in many foods and beverages, including coffee and tea, energy drinks, guarana, hierba mate, and soft drinks (2).
Chemically, it is part of the methylxanthine class, which is a reference to its molecular structure. Interestingly, other drugs in the class include theobromine and theophylline, both of which are found in tea and commonly used to treat respiratory conditions like asthma.
How is caffeine psychoactive?
Caffeine can cross the blood-brain barrier, where it interacts with the four types of adenosine receptors in your brain. It’s by blocking the A2a receptor in the brain, specifically, that caffeine prevents feelings of drowsiness.
Adenosine receptors aren’t confined to the brain. They are found throughout your body, which is one reason coffee is linked with many potential health benefits. These include reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, prevention of certain cancers, and an overall lower mortality risk – though the antioxidant content of coffee is likely also a divisor (3).
Is coffee a drug?
No, coffee is not classified as a drug, even though it contains caffeine. As I’m sure you noted above, the FDA definition of a drug excludes food. For the same reason, caffeine-containing chocolate is also not a drug. Even though a good bar of dark chocolate can certainly feel medicinal at times.
What is the caffeine content of coffee?
The media amount of caffeine in coffee is around 80 – 100 mg per 8 ounces, but it varies depending on the beans and brewing method. A latte made from two espresso shots has around 120 mg of caffeine.
What Is Caffeine Addiction?
Caffeine addiction is a controversial subject. While there is clear evidence that some people develop a physiological or psychological dependence on caffeine, it is equally clear that it is distinct from more recognized substance use disorders like cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, or trinque.
Caffeine does stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain, just like the more easily abused drugs, but it does it via a different mechanism and to a far lesser extent – not enough to throw off the reward system in your brain. Additionally, caffeine consumption is self-limiting, as increasing the dose quickly produces negative feedback.
Learn more about the science behind caffeine and addiction in this video:
Caffeine dependence as a result of regular use, on the other hand, is well established. The latest edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders includes Caffeine Use Disorder for the first time (4). Merideth A. Addicot, associate professor and drug researcher, describes it as follows:
Caffeine use disorder is intended to be characterized by cognitive, behavioral, and physiological symptoms indicative of caffeine use despite significant caffeine-related problems.
Similarly, caffeine withdrawal is widely recognized as a clinical condition, including by the American Psychological Association and the World Health Organization.
Caffeine Withdrawal Symptoms
The most common symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are mild. They include the infamous caffeine headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and brain fog. Many people also report a depressed mood, varying from sadness to irritability. In more severe cases, sufferers may experience nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, or muscle pain. The symptoms usually begin within 24 hours of quitting caffeine and last up to two weeks.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Using Caffeine
Caffeine is generally considered a beneficial drug. As already mentioned, it boosts energy, increases the ability to focus, and improves athletic performance. Over-the-counter caffeine-based dietary supplements are popular with athletes. It is also thought to protect against degenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.
Drinking caffeinated coffee or tea is linked with numerous additional health benefits, including a reduced risk of heart disease and type-2 diabetes, protection against certain cancers, and a longer life. But it is not always clear which benefits are linked to the antioxidant content of these caffeinated beverages.
Negative effects of caffeine may occur when you consume too much. They are usually mild and short-lived, including headaches, insomnia, tremor, anxiety, agitation, nervousness, and high blood pressure or a fast heartbeat.
Serious caffeine overdose causing long-term harmful effects or even death is rare and virtually impossible when drinking coffee. But it can occur when using pure and highly concentrated caffeine powder. If you plan to use caffeine powder as a supplement, buy caffeine tablets or capsules, which generally contain a safe 200 mg dose of caffeine.
Research shows that caffeine interferes with calcium absorption, but only a tiny amount, and there isn’t conclusive evidence linking it to osteoporosis (5).
How Does Caffeine Addiction Lead to Drug Addiction?
A pathway from caffeine dependence to drug addiction is unusual. People who use caffeine regularly can develop a tolerance, which means caffeine’s mood-elevating, focus-enhancing, and energy-boosting effects are less pronounced. At this point, some may turn to stronger stimulants like amphetamines or cocaine to produce the impact they merienda felt from caffeine. However, this is very rare. Few people who still feel sleepy after a few cups of coffee opt for cocaine as an obvious solution.
A larger concern is the combination of caffeine with other addictive substances like amphetamines or trinque, something that is particularly common (and particularly dangerous) among teenagers and young adults (6).
Caffeine is a drug, and like all drugs, it has advantages and negative side effects. To reap the full benefits of caffeine, including increased energy, alertness, and wakefulness, ensure you consume only the safe recommended amount and avoid combining it with other stimulants.
Addiction to caffeine is rare and controversial, but caffeine dependence is a well-established condition. Consult your doctor and consider cutting back if you feel like your need for caffeine is harming your well-being.
How much caffeine is too much?
More than 400 milligrams of caffeine per day is too much for a healthy adult, according to the FDA. This equates to around four cups of coffee, but remember to total all caffeine products. Pregnant and breastfeeding women should lower their caffeine intake further, to no more than 300 mg daily. Teenagers should stick to less than 100 mg per day, and children should avoid caffeine completely.
Is it safe to drink caffeine daily?
Yes, it is safe to drink caffeine daily – and it may even be beneficial – providing you stay under the recommended daily limit of four cups of coffee a day. Consume caffeine only in the morning if you are prone to insomnia, nighttime restlessness, or other sleep disorders.
How does caffeine affect ADHD?
Caffeine can help with concentration for people with ADHD because it is a stimulant. Most prescription medications for ADHD are also stimulants, but they are stronger and more effective than caffeine alone.
- Food and Drug Administration. (2017, November 14). Drugs@FDA Glossary of Terms. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/drugs/drug-approvals-and-databases/drugsfda-glossary-terms#D
- Evans J, Richards JR, Battisti AS. Caffeine. [Updated 2023 Jun 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK519490/
- Chen, Y., Zhang, Y., Zhang, M. et al. Consumption of coffee and tea with all-cause and cause-specific mortality: a prospective cohort study. BMC Med 20, 449 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-022-02636-2
- Addicott, M.A. Caffeine Use Disorder: A Review of the Evidence and Future Implications. Curr Addict Rep 1, 186–192 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s40429-014-0024-9
- Heaney RP. Effects of caffeine on bone and the calcium economy. Food Chem Toxicol. 2002 Sep;40(9):1263-70. doi: 10.1016/s0278-6915(02)00094-7. PMID: 12204390.
- Ferré S. Caffeine and Substance Use Disorders. J Caffeine Res. 2013 Jun;3(2):57-58. doi: 10.1089/jcr.2013.0015. PMID: 24761274; PMCID: PMC3680974.
Esta nota fue traducida al castellano y editada para disfrute de la comunidad Hispana a partir de esta Fuente