Hey is that my coffee? My java? My joe? My go juice? Morning jolt? Worm dirt? Actually, it’s in tea too. We’re talking caffeine in Virtually Rick!

So how does this mysterious substance work and what is it? Well, come with me, let’s get virtual!  

Now, a long time ago a cup of coffee at a diner was rather weak and contained very low amounts of caffeine. But then big coffee chains came along and we started to drink more of it. Coffee consumption in the U.S. went up by a massive 700 percent in only a few years. 


It’s not untrue to say that caffeine is now probably America’s most popular drug.  

And it is a drug! It’s an alkaloid, a white bitter powder in its purest form called: trimethylxanthine.

It’s actually a “Psychoactive agent,” a stimulant, something that affects your central nervous system. It’s a mild diuretic too which might explain why you need to head to the bathroom after chugging a couple of cups.  

It stimulates your brain functions in much the way some rather naughty drugs do albeit in milder form. Let’s talk now about nerve cells in your brain.

I'm simplifying MASSIVELY here, but some of the cell receptors, represented here by catcher’s mitts, are looking out for a molecule called adenosine, something that helps with energy transfer and eventually helps our body to do things like sleep. But caffeine just happens to looks a lot like adenosine. And so caffeine molecules, which I’ve drawn as baseballs here, bind with those nerve receptors (the mitts) meant for adenosine but this time the caffeine causes increased activity.

Parts of the brain notice this activity and then figure some kind of emergency must be happening so hormones are released that tell the adrenal glands to get producing the fight or flight hormone or as we know it adrenaline and voila, rocket fuel!

That might explain why it’s consumed by over 80 percent of people in the U.S. It has a lot of positive and negative impacts too, but far too many to discuss here.

But how much is too much?

The FDA says 400 milligrams — that’s about four or five cups of joe. However, some people are more sensitive than others and taking medication can also increase that sensitivity so watch out. 

And you’ll know! If you get the jitters, insomnia, a headache, an upset tummy or even a fast heart rate. In a small amount it’s OK and some studies even point to it having protective effects from disease but super large doses are not a good idea.  

And finally….if a coffee or tea says it’s decaffeinated that MUST mean that it doesn’t contain caffeine, right? Well NO actually.

Decaf teas and coffees do have caffeine in them just a lot less than normal. It’s low but if you don’t want any caffeine at all then don’t drink ‘em.

But then if 80 percent of America did that then we’d all probably stay in bed and wouldn’t get very much done at all

Hmmmmm . . . Now there's an idea.