Arguably the most widespread and popular nootropic, Caffeine is noted for its cognitive enhancement abilities. The clichéd phrase don’t speak to me until I’ve had my first coffee and variants thereof are a testament to the power of this perfectly legal drug, which is unregulated in most jurisdictions. The Western world is a particularly large consumer of caffeine, with over 90% of North American adults consuming caffeine on a daily basis.
Some claim that caffeine is not a true nootropic because it affects the whole body rather than just the brain, but this would seem to be an argument of semantics. It is well documented for its action as a psychoactive stimulant.
As a nootropic, it stimulates short-term memory and suppresses the long-term memory. This means that users may have trouble remembering events which occurred years ago but will be particularly mentally acute in the exercises they are currently engaging in.
Taken in moderation, it’s an excellent nootropic with a relatively gentle but potent effect on its user. Those utilizing it as a nootropic should nevertheless take care to regulate their intake as prolonged heavy use can lead to unpleasant withdrawal symptoms, and extreme overdoses of caffeine can lead to sickness, psychosis and even death.
Withdrawal symptoms also become apparent in those who have become accustomed to taking regular doses and then stop. Caffeine tolerance does not take long to develop. Within just four days of ingesting around four espressos per day will cause the body to develop a tolerance to the sleep disturbing effects.
Regular intake leads to increased production of adenosine receptors. The result of this increased production is two-fold. Firstly, the user no longer experiences the same effects from caffeine that she or he once did. Secondly, the user becomes more sensitive to adenosine, which is what causes the withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and drowsiness. These symptoms can last for up to 5 days before abating.
The Dark Side of Caffeine
Of course, the effects of overindulging can be severe. In nature, caffeine protects plants by poisoning and paralyzing insects which try to feed on them. Humans can metabolize small amounts without becoming ill, however, in very large doses caffeine can cause sickness or even death.
Most people will experience unpleasant side effects long before they approach the point where they dangerously poison themselves or over stimulate their system if they are ingesting caffeine in its most popular medium, coffee. Those taking high dosage caffeine pills may be less able to predict the effects of the dose before they take it.
The caffeine jitters are a sign that an overdose has already occurred. The technical term for this phenomenon is caffeine intoxication. This causes anxiety, muscle fluttering, rambling speech, sweating and a rapid heartbeat amongst other symptoms. Extreme caffeine intoxication can even lead to psychosis and hallucinations. Lethal doses of caffeine are achieved in humans by consuming the equivalent of 80 to 100 cups of coffee.