Pubdate: Thu, 07 Dec 2000
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2000 Houston Chronicle
Contact:  Viewpoints Editor, P.O. Box 4260 Houston, Texas 77210-4260
Fax: (713) 220-3575
Author: Thom Marshall


He drove in the predawn darkness to the familiar parking lot, stopped, and 

He knew he was too early but was anxious and didn't want to waste a second. 
How he hated to run out of it and feel like this. His wife had used the 
last and forgot to tell him. His left hand trembled as he raised his watch. 
Almost time. He'd soon get rid of his headache, calm his nerves, and be 
better able to concentrate on other matters.

Finally, the person he had been waiting for unlocked the door he had been 
watching. He entered the building, walked several paces and picked up a 
small bag, held it to his nose, and inhaled deeply of the fragrance.

Then he reached for his money, hoping he had enough for two bags. That way, 
when they emptied the first it would be the signal to buy more and he never 
again would face an empty cup precisely when he needs some in the worst way.

Gotta have that cup o' java He just can't get started without caffeine. 
That first swallow of coffee wakes him up, makes it possible for him to 
find the "good" in "good morning." And the first is followed by others 
throughout the day, at home, at work, dining out ...

Back in the 1500s, when coffee first came to Egypt, folks in charge there 
thought it was bad stuff. Why, if you could go back there in a time machine 
and tell those Egyptians how our modern society views caffeine, they'd be 
shocked: "You mean you actually allow your children to drink freely of 
bottled beverages and hot chocolate that contain the same drug that makes 
coffee so dangerous?"

Officials in old Egypt viewed coffee as officials in our modern United 
States view marijuana. Selling it was illegal and anytime the coffee cops 
found a stash, they burned it.

But you don't have to venture that far, either geographically or 
historically, to find serious opposition to caffeine. Consider Dr. T.D. 
Crothers, who was author of the 1902 work Morphinism and Narcomanias from 
Other Drugs and served as superintendent of the Walnut Lodge Hospital in 

This physician rated caffeine addiction on par with alcoholism or being 
hooked on morphine: "In some extreme cases delusional states of a grandiose 
character appear; rarely violent or destructive, but usually of a reckless, 
unthinking variety. Associated with these are suspicions of wrong and 
injustice from others; also extravagant credulity and skepticism."

He told of a Civil War general who "appeared on the front of the line, 
exposing himself with great recklessness, shouting and waving his hat as if 
in a delirium, giving orders and swearing in the most extraordinary manner. 
He was supposed to be intoxicated. Afterward it was found that he had used 
nothing but coffee."

Dr. Crothers considered caffeine a gateway to more harmful substances and 
what he said then sounds much like what you often hear said nowadays about 
marijuana: "Often coffee drinkers, finding the drug to be unpleasant, turn 
to other narcotics, of which opium and alcohol are most common."

I got the information about caffeine from "The Consumers Union Report on 
Licit and Illicit Drugs" by Edward M. Brecher and the editors of Consumer 
Reports magazine. It was published 28 years ago but remains an impressive 
compilation of information.

Potent poison in large doses According to research cited in the report, 
caffeine is a potent poison if taken in very large doses. A fatal dose for 
a human is estimated at 10 grams -- 70 to 100 cups of coffee.

It is interesting to compare coffee habits to the part of the report 
dealing with marijuana, where it says, "It would appear that there are 
normally no adverse physiological effects or withdrawal symptoms occurring 
with abstinence from the drug, even in regular users." And also says that 
"no deaths due directly to smoking or eating cannabis have been documented."

The report says that by keeping coffee legal, "society has avoided 
extortionate black-market prices that might otherwise bankrupt coffee 
drinkers and lead them into lives of crime. And coffee drinkers are not 
stigmatized as criminals, driven into a deviant subculture with all that 
criminalization entails."

The section on caffeine concludes by suggesting: "That other drugs now 
deemed illicit might be similarly domesticated, with a similar reduction in 
the damage they wreak on individuals and on society, is a possibility 
readers may wish to keep in mind."

You may access the report at
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