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Caffeine Is Bad

I recently made a forum thread warning people against drugs, especially brain-affecting, addictive drugs, including caffeine.


I've got a few things to say about it:

Do you know what caffeine does to you?

It's not very hard to look up information or read a book.


Each time you drink a cup of coffee, neurons send messages to your pituitary gland which in turn alerts your adrenals to pump out adrenaline and cortisol. In short; caffeine instantly puts you into fight or flight mode. If you’re drinking several cups a day, it’s likely your whole nervous system is on constant red alert without you even knowing it.


Caffeine is the most widely consumed central-nervous-system stimulant. ... decreases ... cerebral blood flow ... Caffeine activates noradrenaline neurons and seems to affect the local release of dopamine. Many of the alerting effects of caffeine may be related to the action of the methylxanthine on serotonin neurons. ... The effects of caffeine on learning, memory, performance and coordination are rather related to the methylxanthine action on arousal, vigilance and fatigue. Caffeine exerts obvious effects on anxiety and sleep ... The central nervous system does not seem to develop a great tolerance to the effects of caffeine although dependence and withdrawal symptoms are reported.

Caffeine screws with your body a lot, including specifically your brain. Why would it be good? What knowledge-creating process would have designed it so those effects were beneficial?

And basically every other drug is problematic and should be avoided without having a compelling reason to use it. Why would caffeine be the exception?

You guys know that all the pain killer drugs are harmful, right? If you're in pain it's fine to take some, but they're bad for you and taking them chronically is dangerous. They have downsides.


Caffeine is a psychostimulant with the same central effects as the classical nervous system psychostimulants cocaine and amphetamine

You think cocaine and amphetamine are bad, so why are you taking caffeine?


Among [caffeine's] most frequent adverse effects we can find:

  • Irritability
  • Acidity
  • Nervousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Confusion
  • Palpitations
  • Tremors in the limbs
  • Increased urination
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle pain
  • Insomnia
  • Sleep disorders

But people take lots of it without concern or research?

Caffeine and adenosine have a similar molecular structure. So when caffeine is present in the brain, it competes with adenosine to bind to the same receptors. Normally, adenosine would cause drowsiness and slow neuronal activity, but since caffeine blocks the receptors that generally work with adenosine, the effect is the opposite, causing neurons to be stimulated and more active than usual.

It's a bad idea to disrupt your normal, evolved brain functioning unless you have a really good idea of what you're doing (which you don't) or a huge problem that makes it worth the risk (e.g. brain surgery is worth the risk if the alternative is dying).

According to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), approximately 90 percent of the world’s population ingests some form of caffeine.

It's not that hard to look up coffee/caffeine being bad if you ignore the propaganda in favor of it and read what it actually does. I haven't paid much attention to it because I don't drink coffee and don't have a lot of exposure to people who do. Apparently like 80+% of Americans are addicted to caffeine though!? Estimates vary. This estimate says 90% of the world. jeez.

You might claim a lot of caffeine usage is tradition dating back before modern science. Maybe that accounts for a fair amount of that world wide usage. I don't know what caffeine usage is like in China or India today. Some traditional usages might be OK or only mildly bad; I don't know; but I bet they involve a lot less caffeine. I'm pretty confident, with no research, that drinking several cups of coffee a day is not a 1000+ year old tradition. They've been destroying the rain forests to mass produce this coffee. It's a huge, fairly modern industry that has put a ton of work into mass producing this drug and selling it to you in order to make money. Part of the industry is a product of modern wealth. Traditionally, people could not afford Starbucks; that's a post-industrial-revolution thing that has come along with mass-produced factory food in general (which I broadly think has some problems, btw).

Do you think the people running the coffee industry are more ethical than the people making mobile games with predatory monetization? Are they more ethical than the people who run cigarette companies? Don't trust them and their biased, self-serving propaganda aimed at getting people addicted in order to get their money.

Brain-Affecting Drugs and Philosophy

People try to learn philosophy. They get stuck. I try to brainstorm how/why they're stuck and how to help. They sometimes try or pretend to try to brainstorm what's going on too.

Meanwhile they're on drugs and they aren't disclosing that!? Maybe that's why they're stuck!

I know drinking coffee is widespread and normal, so that'd be a reason not to mention it. But brainstorming for why you're struggling with unconventional philosophy should include some conventional, normal things. Part of the idea, which my fans (even stuck ones) are well aware of, is that some normal stuff is actually bad.

Plus I did tell everyone 5 years ago that I think coffee is bad. So not disclosing coffee drinking after that is problematic.

Should I have known how popular coffee is? Partly I'm isolated and not around much coffee drinking by others. I've heard of it but I don't drink coffee, I rarely visit coffee shops, and I don't go to the office in the morning to see most of my coworkers drinking coffee. I talk with people online but many of them seem to hide information about their personal lives as a general policy, which includes their coffee drinking. So it's partly not just an accident – not mentioning coffee can be part of a broader attempt to hide information about what they might be doing wrong. If some would-be students had hours of screencast video of their attempts at learning activities with webcam, or even without cam, it might have revealed a bunch of coffee drinking for at least one person which could have led to the issue being raised more prominently so everyone else noticed and had no excuse to say "I didn't know you think coffee is bad".

But that's not even the main issue regarding it being hard for me to guess who is drinking how much coffee. The main issue is that my fans are self-selected. Even if 90% of the population does something dumb, it's still possible that under 10% of my fans do it. Or at least under 10% of the active posters, who are even more self-selected. For example, being religious is widespread but I'm not aware of any active posters being religious, and I don't think that I should guess posters are religious when they don't specify. If someone was hiding being highly religious from me, I'd think that was bad behavior and a relevant issue to their perspective on philosophy. And I'd consider it unreasonable to say I should have known that maybe they were religious since religion is so common. Similarly, a lot of people believe in superstitions like ghosts or astrology, or believe dumb stuff like UFOs and alien visits, or believe conspiracies like that 9/11 was an inside job. But I don't expect such things from the people on my forums.

I now realize more that a ton of people, even very "rational" type people, think being addicted to brain-affecting drugs is OK. I thought they'd value their brain highly and be more protective of it. And, again, I have brought this up before. And maybe most of the forum posters don't drink coffee (or energy drinks and other caffeine sources)? Not many people actually said. But a few admitted to being caffeine addicts (and defended/rationalized that) and now I'm concerned that a bunch of other people are too.

I think approximately everyone does know not to have drunk conversations with me and act like they are trying to learn while hiding that they're drunk. Same with being high on marijuana.

But they might not disclose that they smoked pot yesterday, had one or two beers earlier today before posting, or used some nicotine today. Those things are bad too. Not disclosing coffee is more like that. Being drunk while posting would be more extreme and more unreasonable. But from a rational/logoical perspective, the difference is quantitative not qualitative. It's less bad by degree to only have one beer instead of being drunk, but it's the same kind of thing. Beer makes it harder for you to think straight. So do coffee, nicotine and pot.

More or less every other drug is problematic too. All the painkillers are problematic to take long term. Hormonal birth control is problematic. All the psych drugs, anxiety drugs, sleep drugs, etc. The big distinction to make is whether it's a mind-affecting drug or not.

Caffeine is mind-affecting. Tylenol may be bad for your body if you take it regularly (and a tiny bit bad to take it even once, but that isn't a serious concern), but to a reasonable approximation it doesn't affect your thinking. It screws with other parts of your body. Whereas caffeine goes into your brain and binds with receptors there (which prevents some normal binding from happening). Caffeine affects and prevents the regular functioning of your brain, rather than just your liver, heart, kidneys or something like that. (Caffeine also has some non-brain effects, but those kinds of effects, whether from caffeine or anything else, are significantly less relevant to philosophy learning.)

Basically, any brain or mind affecting drug is a relevant problem for philosophy learning. If you're getting stuck, that could be part of your problem. Any drug considered calming or anti-calming may be mind-affecting. Any drugs with (or alleged to have) a positive or negative effect on anxiety, or on any emotion or psychological state, could be mind-affecting. (Some stuff is placebo or inaccurate reputation instead.) This is not a perfect distinction, and drugs often have complex effects throughout your body, but you should be somewhat wary of all drugs, and especially wary of brain-affecting drugs. Any drug where affecting your brain is one of the main effects it does is especially concerning.

I feel kinda like I have to police people's entire lives or they'll just massively sabotage their philosophy learning. But that isn't my job, nor my place, and I don't want to do it. Plus they put work into preventing me from policing their lives. They don't regard that as help and don't want it – at least that's how they often act regardless of what they say. If they really seriously wanted help then, among many other things, they'd post hours of raw video of their learning activities and samples of other stuff in their lives. Which is something I've absolutely brought up before repeatedly and everyone just ignores me and doesn't want to do it or talk about it or talk about why they won't do it, etc.


Also, caffeine has a half-life. People sometimes say stuff like it wears off or leaves your system after 12 hours. It doesn't. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7361718/

The half-life of caffeine for healthy people varies. It's commonly in the 3-6 hour range. Suppose it's 5.33 hours for you. You wake up, drink 4 cups of coffee instantaneously, and go to bed 16 hours later. That's the same as drinking half a cup of coffee immediately before bed. Three half lives passed after drinking the coffee, so the amount of coffee in your system is reduced by half three times, going from 4 cups to 2 to 1 to 1/2 a cup of coffee.

There are a lot of people who drink 5+ cups of coffee per day, and some of them keep drinking it in the afternoon or even the evening (e.g. an after-dinner coffee). Some of those people also get caffeine from other sources like tea, soda or chocolate. Some other pepole drink little or no coffee but drink lots of "energy drinks".

Also a "cup" of coffee is misleading and refers to roughly 100mg of caffeine. A lot of coffee drinks have more like 200mg and some have over 300mg. A coke is more like 30mg. Mainstream authorities currently commonly say that over 400mg in a day may be harmful.

The result is a lot of people go to bed with half a "cup" (50mg) or more caffeine still active in their body.

Repetitive Conclusion

Here's some conclusion that I wrote before some of the explanation above so it's kinda repetive now:

If you're trying to be a good thinker and learn stuff, while taking mind-effecting drugs, we don't have full knowledge of all the detailed effects, but you're presumably sabotaging yourself. I now suspect this contributes significantly to the difficulty I have explaining stuff to people or getting reasonable answers from them in debates or discussions. I think people have mistreated me by having low quality discussions and then not disclosing a contributing factor: that they were taking caffeine or other relevant drugs. Being sleep deprived is a similar issue which I fear is another widespread form of philosophical sabotage.

I've been trying to brainstorm why people get stuck and none of them bother to mention to me that they're on drugs.

It's kinda like if people were trying to have conversations with me while drunk and didn't disclose that they were drunk. I think a lot of readers would find that example pretty bad and see my point about how that would be mistreating me. Doing the same thing with caffeine, sleep deprivation, other drugs or smaller doses of alcohol is also unreasonable in a similar way to doing undisclosed drunk conversations. It's the same issue qualitatively, just less bad as a matter of degree, but still bad.

Also, caffeine is surprisingly under-researched scientifically.


Fire replied to this article and it sounded like he wants to quit caffeine cold turkey (meaning abruptly, all at once, just immediately start entirely avoiding caffeine). I replied:

Quitting addictive drugs cold turkey is often not the best approach. If it works for you, cool. But don’t stress too much if it doesn’t and don’t try too hard to force it with a ton of will power.

It can be better to taper the dosage down.

It can be better to do non-judgmental introspection, and pay attention to what using the drug is like, so that you understand it better, before trying to quit.

It can help to do research like reading books before quitting (or during a quitting process that takes weeks or months) so you know what you’re doing more and are more sure about your conclusion. You wouldn’t want to try to quit then change your mind when you get a new piece of information, then change your mind again when getting another new piece of information, etc. The Caffeine Blues book looks OK. I like Allen Carr’s Easy Way To Stop Smoking – some of the ideas in it would help (like anti-willpower stuff) but it’s about the wrong drug so some wouldn’t. (EDIT: Carr also has a book on quitting caffeine that I haven't read. He also has books on some other similar topics like alcohol and eating problems.)

It can help to be familiar with other people’s stories and experiences so you know what to expect and can be more confident of your conclusion about how to run your life and your method for achieving that. Talking with other people can help too like Alcoholics Anonymous and other IRL meetups or online forums. Reddit has stuff like https://www.reddit.com/r/decaf/

Elliot Temple on July 10, 2022


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