Eyes darting, heart pounding, mind racing — order up! Cocaine isn’t the only white powder addicting Americans -- in  fact, it’d be lost if thrown among the masses of caffeine soaking us each morning. The 15 million pounds our nation consumes annually is a mindboggling 21 pounds of white per citizen.

Caffeine craze is not limited to U.S. borders. Currently coffee megalith Starbucks opens an estimated 4 new locations every workday across the globe. Caffeine from such natural sources as coffee and tea has been popular since the days of Taoism, but modernity has opened new doors for caffeinated concoctions. Energy drinks have become a thriving industry of chemical manipulation. Red Bull, Monster, SoBe and 5 Hour Energy are popular among young adults especially.  It’s understandable that this would be so as college students jolt themselves awake to squeeze every ounce of brainpower into their studies before passing out over textbooks. After committing to a school’s price tag, the pressure is on to get the grades.

How come pumping our veins with these feel-good elixirs is so effective at propelling us into overdrive? It all begins when caffeine crosses the blood-brain barrier. Caffeine has a similar shape to the neurotransmitter adenosine, which causes our brains to slow down. Caffeine begins to stop our brain from resting by taking adenosine’s place. This is called competitive inhibition. It will also trigger the release of adrenaline, bringing forth all the flight or fight symptoms as our bodies gear up for action.

Too much caffeine is dangerous because it can cause the likes of heart palpitations and seizures. It would be practically impossible to overdose on caffeine from coffee or tea, but in recent years, energy drink binges have ended in hospitalization. They hold many times the amount of caffeine that would occur naturally from brewed plants. 5 Hour Energy has been involved in so many emergencies that investigations by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have been done in regards to its safety. The FDA warns of its threats and is especially wary of pure caffeine powder that is now being sold on the market. According to them a teaspoon of the powder is the equivalent of roughly 25 cups of coffee so you can imagine how easy it could be to ingest a threatening quantity. Consumers must purchase wisely when dealing with this under-regulated industry.

It’s a fast-paced world out there, and caffeine can help us get ahead, but it’s important to put on the brakes sometimes and simply cruise. It’s not natural for a brain to always function at full throttle. Our culture likes tricking us into thinking everything is a competition because the system thinks this will motivate us to be our best selves. The truth is that life is not a race. Once you make it to the end you will want more than a blur to reminisce upon.

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