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Psycotropic drugs like caffeine in coffee should not be regulated

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Illustration by Jennifer Luxton / Contributor

America’s strict policy concerning psychotropic (mind altering) drugs has been raging since the 1980s when the “war on drugs” was declared. Substances such as cocaine, ecstasy, crystal meth and heroin have all been declared illegal for their dangerous and addictive properties.

Similar drugs, namely alcohol and tobacco, are legal but regulated by the government for commercial use. But the most common drug of all, which is unregulated and potentially just as dangerous as the others, is a stimulant 90 percent of American adults consume daily: caffeine.

Whether consumed through coffee, tea, energy drinks or soda, Americans have easy and unlimited access to caffeine, but is our government’s policy too lenient? Should caffeine be treated like other psychoactive drugs and be regulated, or even banned?

The policy we currently have on caffeine is adequate, and it shouldn’t change for many reasons. Firstly, although caffeine may be dangerous in large doses, there have only been four documented cases of caffeine deaths since 2007. That’s about 500 times less than the number of Tylenol deaths per year.

Secondly, caffeine addiction doesn’t pose much of a threat. People who are addicted will have mild withdrawal syptoms when the drug isn’t present in their system. The symptoms, which resolve within 2-5 days, include lethargy, headaches and sleepiness.

“Sure, caffeine is addictive,” said Doctor Mark Stevens, director of university counseling services. “But you have to look at the consequences of the addiction. The physical aspect is nothing more than having headaches for a while.”

Lastly, while the symptoms of caffeine overdose, which include confusion, fever, hallucinations, convulsions, irregular heartbeat and even death are similar to that of stronger substances, the amount of caffeine needed to achieve such fatal levels far exceed that of illegal drugs.

It takes an excess of 5 grams of caffeine for the average person to overdose, and since a cup of coffee is contains about 60-100 milligrams of it, someone would have to ingest over 50 cups at the same to overload themselves to the point of death. Not very likely.

For some, the benefits of caffeine greatly overpower the drawbacks.

“If taken in moderation and without prior health concerns, caffeine has plenty of benefits,” said Stevens. “Users get more blood flow in to their brains which leads to heightened alertness, concentration, and it helps people focus on tasks without getting distracted. There’s also a social interaction centered around caffeine. People get together, drink coffee, and socialize, and that’s always good.”

At the front line of the war on drugs, it’s important to remember that the “drugs are bad” mantra is far from universal.

8 Comments

  1. Anonymous Oct 4, 2011

    Good essay, Ron.  I do find it humerous that David exercised his constitutional right to jab on Obama.

  2. Perhaps I missed the point of this piece.  Is the Obama administration lobbying to have the DEA license Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leafs across the land?  Actually, it really wouldn’t surprise me if they tried.  And I’m certain Obama would just do it by executive order as opposed to going through the legislative process.

    1. Old Glory Oct 4, 2011

      Any chance to take a swipe at Obama you take it.

      1. You’re wrong.  I’ve held my tounge on occasion.  This, however, was an opportunity not to let pass by!

  3. Anon Oct 4, 2011

    I agree with the conclusion, but the actual process of argument is another matter. The reason withdrawal effects with coffee is mild is because its fairly easy to purchase coffee and avoid needing to ever go cold turkey. Compare this to heavily regulated drugs that are hard to purchase regularly for most people, and thus suffer from withdrawal. Thus ‘hard’ drugs would be a non issue if they were decriminalized and allowed to drop in price to make it affordable for its user.

    Keep coffee (relatively) unregulated, and decriminalize all other drugs while we’re at it!

    1. Anon Oct 4, 2011

      Actually let’s completely unregulate coffee too!

    2. Anon Oct 4, 2011

      I’ll use your argument with another drug to counter your point.

      Alcohol is a legal, regulated drug. If your premise about how withdrawal has to do with regulation/how easy it is to get, then alcohol withdrawal would be similar to coffee’s. However, in cases of alcoholism (since you the article and your example deal in terms of addiction- not moderate use), withdrawal can be deadly.

      The danger in ‘hard’ drugs not only stems from the possible withdrawal symptoms, it also comes from their addictive potential. If we take drugs such as heroin, which is both highly addictive and immensely dangerous while “in use” (one unlucky hit/injection/etc and you’re dead regardless of the number of times you’ve used before or if it’s your first time). The long term effects must also come into play. Heroin use can, among other things, lead to bacterial infections and collapsed veins (and it includes other risks such as contracting Hepatitis or HIV).

      1. Anonymous Oct 5, 2011

        The regulations between coffee and alcohol are very different, so a direct comparison does not work. If you have ever tried to attain an alcohol selling license you should know of the absurd costs associated with it. It goes without saying that the cost of the license alone makes alcoholic beverages several times higher than they would be otherwise – and this is my point from earlier.

        Coffee addicts don’t have a severe epidemic in withdrawal symptoms because they don’t have to ever withdraw. Compare this to illegal drugs, or more regulated drugs such as alcohol and heroin whose cost has been raised by the regulations, and thus harder to ensure a steady supply of.

        I am happy you brought up alcohol though. Perhaps you might recall a social experiment called the Prohibition Era? Or the War on Drugs? The former fermented the rise of criminal syndicates to an unprecedented level that left untold numbers dead. The latter has done the same, not to mention cause an undeclared war against the Mexican people.

        Should I dare bring up how the ban of milder drugs has actually lead to the creation and use of stronger drugs?

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