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The Caffeine Cover-Up: Author Reveals How Little We Know About Our Favorite Drug

2 Substance

Murray Carpenter take his dose 

Murray Carpenter take his dose. Photo via

Caffeinated: How Our Daily Habit Helps, Hurts and Hooks Us is a big new book about caffeine, the world’s most widely used drug. Most of us have been consuming this chemical on a daily basis since we were kids, in coffee, tea, Coke, energy drinks, etc. Yet despite caffeine’s ubiquity, it is curious—suspiciously so—how little we think or know about it.

Caffeinated author Murray Carpenter got on the case to expose a conspiracy of silence that includes the coffee industry, the FDA and our own families. In an interview with Salon‘s Lindsay Abrams, he answers all the questions about caffeine that we have been unable or unwilling to ask. Here’s a taste:

If caffeine is a “drug,” does that mean it is addictive?

It is certainly addictive in the sense that it has a number of characteristics that we associate with addictive drugs. You crave it, develop a tolerance to it, and most people who are at least moderate to heavy users undergo some withdrawal symptoms on ceasing its use. But some people argue that without some kind of really negative social connotations, a drug doesn’t deserve the term “addiction.” People aren’t missing work because they’re jonesing for caffeine.

Why is caffeine the one drug that still flies under the radar?

We all are conflicted about it, because the vast majority of us are taking this drug every day. So it’s already in another category….The other thing is that the coffee industry and the soft drink industry have consistently downplayed the importance of caffeine in the marketing and sales of their products. The big tactic is just to ignore it, and when it comes up, to simply say, ‘Caffeine’s safe. It’s been studied for a long time. Move along. Nothing to see here.’ And I really don’t blame them, because it’s a tough conversation to have.

Why is the FDA looking into regulating caffeine after so many decades of ignoring it?

The FDA is concerned about the new energy products that are appearing in many different forms. It was Wrigley Gum that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, even though there is nothing particularly new about caffeinated gum. As the FDA explained it to me, when one of the biggest, most well-known corporations in the US is putting out a caffeinated gum, it’s time to say, “Whoa! Let’s take a better look at this.”