Thus Spake Zuska

Caffeine Really Is A Drug!

I’ve been essentially caffeine-free for about five years now. After my stroke, when the migraines got progressively worse, all sorts of things that never bothered me before suddenly began serving as migraine triggers. Peanut butter. Bananas. Yoghurt. Onions.

And caffeine.

Now, caffeinated soft drinks I can do without. In fact, I can do without soft drinks altogether. But I love, love, love coffee. So, I switched to decaf, ’cause I couldn’t go without. Over the past five years – no regular coffee, no caffeinated soft drinks, very rarely here and there a cup of tea. I know there is still a low level of caffeine in decaffeinated coffee but it’s nothing like a regular cup of coffee – about 5 mg of caffeine compared to 100 to 150 mg of caffeine for a regular cup. I drink about 3 or 4 cups of decaf throughout the day on weekdays, from about 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so I’m getting 20 mg gradually over 6 hours.

Last weekend, at the farmer’s market, I bought coffee beans – a local university had a table at the market to raise awareness about fair trade coffee. It was very cold and windy and I was in a hurry to get home and, unfortunately, I forgot to specify decaf. Once home, I realized I had a bag of regular beans. And I was almost out of my usual decaf.

I thought, well, maybe I can mix it and it won’t be so bad. I made a pot that was 30% decaf and 70% the new full-strength caffeinated stuff. I drank one cup.

And then I felt like I was high.

The top of my scalp felt tingly, and I felt almost euphoric. It was hard to sit still, because moving around felt like so much fun. My heart was beating faster, and at times I felt almost dizzy. At first the sensation was sort of fun but then I wanted to walk away from it, make it stop, and I couldn’t, and it became mildly distressing. No wonder the Mormons advise against the Demon Caffeine. Eventually, of course, it wore off and I was back to normal, but I didn’t drink any more coffee that day! I’ve laid in a new stash of decaf now, but I have no idea what I’m going to do with this bag of really lovely smelling coffee beans.

Comments

  1. #1 Dr. Free-Ride
    November 23, 2008

    You’ve just described my first day off the wagon the last half-dozen times I got off caffeine. I’m a decaf drinker now, and I tell myself I won’t go back to high octane, but the euphoria is fun while it lasts …

    I have no idea what I’m going to do with this bag of really lovely smelling coffee beans.

    Sell them at the junior high?

  2. #2 Isis the Scientist
    November 24, 2008

    Zuska, what you describe here is exactly why Dr. Isis is a total junkie. If I don’t pay attention to what I am up to I can go through an entire pot in a day. I love everything about coffee — the smell, the taste, how it feels warm in my hands. And the taste of decaf just won’t satisfy the needs of the domestic and laboratory goddess.

    Of course, that might explain why I am up at 12:40 am commenting on blogs and not sleeping.

  3. #3 drugmonkey
    November 24, 2008

    of course coffee smells and tastes like crap, I-storm….ain’t conditioning wonderful?

  4. #4 CRM-114
    November 24, 2008

    I was a serious coffee drinker for decades, but finally had to give it up for green tea. Occasionally, however, I will pull two shots of espresso, so I keep the beans in the fridge.

  5. #5 Constance Reader
    November 24, 2008

    I gave up caffeine in February of this year and I can tell you that it is like a drug, because the withdrawal was hell. I knew it would be, I did a lot of research on caffeine withdrawal, and I warned my officemates that they might want to confine communication to email for a week.

    I dropped caffeine not because it triggered headaches (just the opposite), but because one day I did not drink any because I was out and within an hour of waking, I had a migraine. Later that afternoon I stopped at a coffeeshop and the migraine faded. I tried the same thing the next day, to see if it was just coincidence. Nope. No coffee = migraine again. I took that as a sign that I HAD to break this addiction.

    I’ve been fine since withdrawal ended. I sleep better, wake better and get to sleep faster. But I haven’t fallen off the wagon even once, I am too wary of how my body would react.

  6. #6 ScienceWoman
    November 24, 2008

    Want to know what to do with the coffee beans? Give them away on blog to the commenter who makes you happiest in the next few days. Do that and I guarantee you’ll get some wonderful comments to store up for the next time a troll comes round.

    As for me, I don’t drink coffee, but I know the feeling you describe. I get it when I order an extra large Chai and drink it on an empty stomach. Actually, like right now.

  7. #7 bsci
    November 24, 2008

    A little bit of euphoria? That’s nothing. I know someone who was usually a caffeine abstainer who broke into literally giggling euphoria for over an hour with so much tingling that he couldn’t stand up and later had some insect crawling on skin hallucinations… all from a 20oz Pepsi. I’ve been trying to get him enrolled in some caffeine studies for years, but haven’t found any neuro-drug researchers interested in specific, strange human responses.

  8. #8 brooks
    November 24, 2008

    uh-oh! just found this:

    “Test samples from 10 national chains and local Florida coffeehouses showed that 16-ounce decaf cups contained caffeine levels between 8.6 to 13.9 milligrams. A 16-ounce cup of regular coffee: 170 milligrams.”

  9. #9 Becca
    November 24, 2008

    DM, that’s some crazy-talk, that is.
    Coffee smells WONDERFUL. I think Zuska should keep the beans around just to smell them. Or she can send them to me!

    Of course, one could argue I may simply have been pre-conditioned a little earlier than most. Coffee = how mommy smells to my little lizard brain. But that logic doesn’t quite work. We have a tidy control condition. Cigarettes still smell awful to me.

  10. #10 DrugMonkey
    November 24, 2008

    Becca, the fact that you have not developed associations that make cigarettes smell good to you does not preclude the fact that you have developed such associations for coffee.

  11. #11 Penny
    November 24, 2008

    That happened to me, once, when I’d been off caffeine for about three years. I was in grad school, late at the office, and mistakenly consumed a styro cup of regular coffee. The distressing part came pretty quickly–I tried running up and down the stairs a few times to work it off, but that didn’t work at all–then I actually called a drug hotline to see if there was any way to speed thru the feeling and get back to normal (yes, they pretty much just told me to relax and wait, but they managed to keep from laughing at my query anyway). Blech.

    I stayed off caffeine till motherhood hit–and something had to give–now I’m back to addict status that Constance Reader describes–if I don’t drink it, the headaches come.

    Give the beans to an elementary school, for the teachers’ lounge; or a senior center maybe.

  12. #12 Mecha
    November 24, 2008

    I was never a coffee person, but I had a serious soda habit back in the day. And then, in college, I was informed, ‘Oh, drinking caffeine is causing your stomach to try to destroy your esophagus.’ Boom. Cold turkey on caffeine.

    It kinda sucks to be the geek who has to go ‘No, I don’t drink caffeine, and I don’t like even decaf coffee.’ It’s almost as social as alcohol. ;) And who wants to be confined to decaf teas!

    -Mecha

  13. #13 Cherish
    November 24, 2008

    I can’t ever seem to get off caffeine, but I’ve really cut down…although I like a fully caffeinated Earl Grey tea once in a while.

    I would suggest making little coffee sachets to put around the house and make it smell nice. :-)

  14. #14 Becca
    November 24, 2008

    DM- I was more referring to the fact that I’ve *always* liked the smell and taste of coffee. I used to look askance at decaf, but that was the conditioning (I blame influences like Dr. Isis for that!). I don’t think I can taste the difference.

    Think of it this way. Way back, someone had to like something about the way coffee smelled/tasted/looked to try it the first time. I maintain those curious individuals must have been my foremothers.
    I have no doubt coffee tastes awful to you. But that does not mean it is intrinsically awful tasting to all sets of tastebuds, absent any positive drug feeling associations.

  15. #15 Comrade PhysioProf
    November 24, 2008

    Z, you’re a motherfucking degenerate junkie!!

  16. #16 PGIV
    November 25, 2008

    There’s evidence that suggests that caffeine, when taking at the right dose (and this will depend on each subject), increases performance on memory tasks. The shit helps you think, that’s why I take it.

    Plus, I’m addicted.

  17. #17 Roi des Foux
    November 25, 2008

    I’ve just quit caffeine for the third time this year. (I think I can make it stick this time, assuming I can go a couple months without having to pull another 280-hour month at lab, and no more of my crushes get married.) I’m always amazed at how clear-headed I am once I get over the withdrawal, and again at how powerful the rush is when I partake again.

  18. #18 Bagelsan
    November 25, 2008

    I’m not very sensitive to caffeine, thank goodness (just the emetic aspects!) but my friend is a wee bit bipolar/anxiety disorder, and is *very* sensitive to drugs, so any more caffeine than a cup of tea each day will mess her *up.* She’ll get antsy/nervous/jittery/you name it. Of course, the effects seem to vary based on amount of sleep/vitamin E intake/mood/weather/etc so her brain chemistry may be mostly to blame…

    I purposefully hooked myself on coffee junior year of college for finals week, and now I’m kinda stuck. :p I don’t drink enough to get withdrawal symptoms, exactly, but I always want to have some to *hold* and maybe just *sip* and I can-quit-anytimeIwantto–

  19. #19 MissPrism
    November 25, 2008

    I’m with Becca on always liking the smell of coffee, even before I ever drank the stuff. Took me a while to get to like the taste, though.
    (Where does actual flavour end and conditioning / perceptions begin – is even chocolate “really” delicious or is it just the caffeine and theobromine? DM, have you posted on this? ‘Cos it sounds fascinating.)

  20. #20 MissPrism
    November 25, 2008

    And by “perceptions” I of course mean “associations” because I haven’t had my tea yet. ADDICT.

  21. #21 DrugMonkey
    November 25, 2008

    MissPrism, no, I haven’t posted on this to my recollection.

    One way I might start is with a thread for stories on how and when people started drinking coffee and alcohol. What their perceptions were initially and what their perceptions are now…hmm.

    I am perhaps fortunate that I have distinct memories of the whole induction process. I find that it, and typical experiences of other drinkers I talk to, have some fairly direct parallels to specific areas of animal research. Getting rodents to drink alcohol (they are much smarter than we are) is one major area for comparison.

  22. #22 Zuska
    November 25, 2008

    Becca, I’d be happy to send you the bag ‘o’ beans. Just shoot me an email with your mailing address.

    DM, sounds like some great ideas for blogging there…

    The rest of you…I love your caffeine stories. What a bunch of junkies we are. I’m guessing there’s enough caffeine in my decaf to have some effect on my craving for it. It can’t all be about the taste. Though taste is definitely an issue. I’m telling you, a cup of decaf cappuccino from La Colombe is nothing at all like that last cup of sludge sitting in the bottom of your lab coffee pot. I pay top dollar for my bag of decaf at home. It is my one major indulgence.

    I used to love smelling my dad’s coffee; he always had a cup before leaving for his shift at the mine. Started drinking it myself in mid-teens. Then came a bout of food poisoning one night, prior to which I’d had several cups of coffee…after that I couldn’t drink coffee for YEARS. The smell of it made me feel nauseated. I was a tea-drinker only for many, many years. Then gradually the aversion wore off, and a few years in Germany turned me solidly back into a coffee drinker. They drink as much coffee as they do beer, if not more! Now here I am, a decaf freak.

    Excuse me, my cup is empty. Gotta go get some more.

  23. #23 ...tom...
    November 25, 2008

    Another addicted coffee junkie here. I am sure it dates to my days of working with an old Navy Chief who kept forcing his ‘special’ office brew on me. Never did hear, after I left the office, whether the coffee or the unfiltered Camels he chain-smoked killed him first.

    Am never far, in distance or time, from my next warm cup of joe…

    …tom…
    .

  24. #24 Luna_the_cat
    November 25, 2008

    Total coffee addict, me. And not worried about it, I have to admit. I love the taste and the smell and the fact that it wakes me up in the morning.

    I started drinking coffee in my junior year as an undergrad. An unfortunate confluence of medical conditions and incompetent university doctors resulted in my immune system crashing and burning, and I spent the entire year moving from one desperate illness to another. Unfortunately, that was also Junior Year Abroad, and I was very aware that I would not have another chance to take the classes I was taking — I HAD to stay functional. With the help of much, much coffee, I did. But I drank enough that I didn’t have much luck getting off it afterwards. And now I just don’t care any more.

    Sadly, I can’t drink tea. I used to love tea, too — but I started having worse and worse reactions to it, until the last time I had a cup of tea, at a hotel when their coffee machine was broken. I spent the next 6-7 hours in cold-sweat-severe-muscle-cramp-wheezy-closed-up-throat land, and decided never to touch the stuff again.

    But it isn’t the caffeine that did that to me. I can tolerate very high caffeine levels. (Recently shared my personal morning brew with an IBM consultant who had come on site — he drank half a cup and then complained that his eyeballs were vibrating too much for him to focus on the computer monitor. Wimp.) Dunno.

  25. #25 arlenna
    November 25, 2008

    Why (other than migraines) would anyone want to quit caffeine? I love getting high.

  26. #26 becca
    November 25, 2008

    …tom… everyone knows that the toxins in unfiltered Camels and black coffee undergo mutual destructive interference. Their net effect is to make you live forever. Your old Navy Chief must have quit one and keel right over from the other.

  27. #27 Paul C. Herson
    February 6, 2009

    Caffeine Addiction – Caffeine Effects and Withdrawal part I

    In this article, we are going to discuss the importance of caffeine addiction and the most important facts about it, as caffeine addiction is something we all must prevent in order for us to be healthy and stay that way for years. We are also going to mention some significant facts about caffeine effects and how caffeine effects may affect our body performance considerably.

    Caffeine addiction is one of the most famous types of addictions in the world, just like cocaine and marihuana. Caffeine addiction sometimes has been considered a lie, but it is a really, because caffeine is a stimulant that becomes addictive within a certain period of time. Interestingly, caffeine addiction shows up when you are not expecting it, and it does not necessarily show up because we want to

    Pure caffeine is, chemically speaking, a plant-based alkaloid that stimulates the central nervous system in any living creature that intakes it. Biologically, caffeine serves as a form of pest control for certain plants like cacao trees, coffee shrubs, yuba mate and tea trees; it causes insects and other pests to fall down from the effects of over-stimulation. So, just like those pests and insects that I mentioned, caffeine also produces stimulation in our central nervous system, which usually makes us feel more energized, invigorating and active.

    There is something called caffeine withdrawal, which refers to the sudden denial of us to consume caffeine, and it happens when regular consumers of caffeinated products may experience painful headaches if the body is denied caffeine. These headaches are caused by excess blood gathering in the area around the brain and sinus cavities, so without the stimulation provided by caffeine, the blood vessels shrink, restricting the blood flow. The traditional cure for caffeine withdrawal is to ingest more caffeine, which is not a healthy solution and this is also why many headache medications contain small amounts of caffeine…. to be continued

    You can find more info at: http://yourcaffeineaddiction.com/

  28. #28 Gav
    March 25, 2009

    As a hardened caffeine “addict” and someone who has failed numerous times to quit drinking coffee, I have spent a great deal of time trying to understand exactly why I can’t quit the damn stuff. The conclusion I have come to is that the addiction is very much a function of the environment I find myself in at any given time.

    When I am away from my usual office habitat, say hurtling down the side of a mountain on a bike, then the drinking of coffee becomes an afterthought. I may have one, I may not, but it usually doesn’t cross my mind unless I’m in the proximity of a cafe. In this setting I can say I’m not addicted to caffeine.

    So returning to the office. If I try and go more than a few hours into the day without a coffee I start questioning the very purpose of my existence. The everyday tasks, the petty office politics, the repetition, all serve in driving me into a state of despair. Fast forward two cups of coffee and everything is suddenly bearable again. These days the effects of ingesting caffeine no longer cause the manic rush or state of euphoria that I used to experience, but what it does somehow do is fool me into thinking that all these mundane tasks are more important than they are and so make them bearable again.

    I have tried giving up for 4-5 weeks, and whilst the physical effects of caffeine withdrawal wore off after only a couple of days, the haunting pointlessness of my every day situation just would not go away, and ultimately relief came only in the shape of a hot steaming mug of joe.

    I suspect that most people will be in a similar situation and find it very hard to give up caffeine whilst stuck in the daily grind (‘scuse the pun). Try giving up next time you are doing something different, something that already provides the stimulus in its own right, and you’ll see that coffee is no longer required (well not by the bucket load anyway!).

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