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Caffeine: Understanding the world’s most popular psychoactive drug

Author(s): Majithia N

Abstract

Whether it is a steaming mug of morning Joe or an afternoon pick-me-up soda, the world is addicted to caffeinated comforts. According to a study conducted by New Scientist magazine, 90% of North American adults consume some form of caffeine on a daily basis, making this legal, psychoactive substance the world's most widely used drug. Its widespread use, coupled with its lack of nutritional value, has attracted the condemnation of many dietary purists who brand caffeine as some sort of "demon compound." But to what extent is draining that café latte from Starbucks an exercise in sinfulness? While existing research offers conflicting opinions, the current consensus seems to be chanting "everything in moderation."

Caffeine is a chemical compound found in the beans, leaves, and fruits of over 60 known plants. In its natural environment, it acts as an organic pesticide, protecting vegetation from insects with parasitic tendencies. When consumed by humans, the stimulant operates on the central nervous system (CNS) to produce an energizing effect that, among other things, wards off lethargy and promotes mental acuity. Caffeine's "buzz," which is unregulated by governments worldwide, is responsible for the success of household commodities such as coffee, soda, energy drinks, and even certain pills.

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