I want to take some time to talk about one of my favorite drugs: caffeine!  Why? Because I just drank an unnecessarily large quantity of it!

What does the magic energy chemical of awesomeness do when it enters the body?  Well, knowing that you need that pick-me-up right away, caffeine chose to be both water and lipid soluble.  This means that it comes busting into your blood stream like the Kool-Aid man on amphetamines.

But like every good superhero, caffeine needs a supervillain: adenosine.  If this chemical sounds familiar to you, that’s probably because it is a necessary part of ATP (adenosine triphosphate) – a common energy source for cells.  However, when adenosine is without the normal phosphate entourage, it exerts effects on the nervous system via adenosine receptors located throughout the body.  What effects you might ask?  Well caffeine blocks adenosine receptors so the logical conclusion is… drowsiness!  I’m glad you’re keeping up.

So! We have adenosine, the diabolical agent of heavy eyelids and late-night study sessions, and we have caffeine, the caped crusader battling valiantly for the last vestiges of a possible decent grade for that one class you should have paid more attention in.  Their battleground: the adenosine receptor.  Since I’m feeling the college metaphors, imagine the receptor as a classroom and your brain chemistry as the student.  It’s 8 in the morning and Professor Adenosine shuffles in.  He tries to set up his PowerPoint but cannot understand technology beyond the 1950s and you have to help him get it going.  He finally lowers the lights and begins his lecture in a dry, monotonous voice.  You can’t remember exactly when you fell asleep, but suddenly Professor Caffeine bursts into the classroom!  You sit bolt-upright as he begins chattering excitedly about gummy bears and potassium chlorate.  He reaches into his voluminous lab coat and pulls out a FIVE POUND GUMMY BEAR.  Wearing appropriate safety gear, he places it in a trash-can sized test tube with potassium chlorate AND OH MY GOD THAT SUCKER IS EXPLODING.  There is some serious gummy bear face-melting awesomeness going on right now.  There is no way that you even remember Professor Adenosine is in the classroom (the receptor, remember?).  That’s basically how caffeine works.


Now drink some coffee and do your real person work.

(if you actually want to see a 5 lb gummy bear melt, check this out:


2 thoughts on “Caffeine

  1. You should also explain why coffee functions as a laxative. I say coffee instead of caffeine because I’m not sure if it’s actually the caffeine [or some other mysterious component that’s conveniently found in all the coffee I drank] that triggers the effect.

    Oh poo…

    • I could write up a long post detailing the results of the most cited study concerning this subject, but someone has already done that ( This is a very well done secondary scientific literature article and does a nice job staying true to the results of the actual study.

      Essentially, coffee stimulates a part of your colon making you have to go. It can even be decaf, though just hot water doesn’t do the trick. The thing is, we know that there is a cause and effect (coffee —> colon stimulation), but the actual mechanism by which this occurs is still largely unknown.

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