Theine does not exist: it is caffeine, and a cup of tea contains more than a Coca-Cola

caffien coca

The most widely used psychoactive drug in the world is the same stimulant found in tea, guarana, yerba mate, soft drinks and energy drinks or pills. In Spain it is followed by anxiolytics, which act for the opposite

The stimulant with which we start the day around the world, caffeine, is a crystal-shaped alkaloid , called xanthines, first isolated in 1820 by the German chemist Friedlib Ferdinan Runge —Victor R Preedy, ‘Caffeine: Chemistry, Analysis, Function and Effects’—.

However, it took its name, after it was popularized by the studies of French chemists, from the word coffee. Like other alkaloids, such as cocaine, nicotine or morphine, it has effects on the central nervous system and is a psychoactive drug due to its stimulant activity , although its addiction is minimal compared to other members of the family.

Originally, it was extracted from the Coffea arabica plant , from Ethiopia and Yemen in West Africa, which in turn has many subspecies, but the alkaloid is present in another 60, of which the best known, for its use also as an infusion They are tea, yerba mate and guarana .

That is, although theine, guaranine or mateine are sometimes mentioned as active components , they are actually the same thing: caffeine. Tea has been used in China for centuries and yerba mate has also been used in the pre-Columbian cultures of Central and South America, as well as guarana, mainly in present-day Brazil.

The alkaloid is present in 60 other plants, of which the best known are tea, yerba mate and guarana

What are the drinks with the highest concentration ? Energy and coffee. Surprisingly enough, tea is ahead of caffeinated soft drinks like Coca-Cola or Pepsi: an afternoon cup of tea contains more than a can of cola, even with less liquid. The table from highest to lowest would be the following:

  • Energy drinks like Red Bull: just its classic 250 ml can contains 77 mg of caffeine.
  • Coffee : it depends on the type of grain that is used and its preparation, but it is along with energy drinks that on average it contains the most caffeine. In a 250 ml cup we ingest about 72 mg. It varies depending on whether it is instant, espresso or American , which is smoother due to the paper filter, compared to the Italian machines – made of steel or aluminum – or the French plunger press, which was actually invented by an Italian, Attilio Calimani, in 1929, but it became popular in Paris.
  • Black tea : within the varieties of tea leaves , it is the one that contains the most, approximately 36 mg according to its preparation: the longer it rests, the more it contains. It is the classic ‘breakfast tea’ popularized by the English through British India and its varieties, such as Darjeeling.
  • Green tea : typical of eastern countries such as China and Japan, which also has an elaborate preparation associated with a ritual, as in the case of matcha tea. Much less compared to the more widespread black tea. On target, in turn, it is even lower.
  • Cola soft drinks : a can of Coca-Cola or Pepsi has less caffeine than a cup of tea or coffee, even though its quantity is greater: 350 ml, approximately 30 mg, less if we compare it with the same measure as the rest of drinks.

However, both in soft drinks and energy drinks, caffeine is added artificially and is not bound to other molecules as in the case of coffee, tea, guarana or yerba mate, which are responsible for produce somewhat different properties in each of them.

A legal drug without a prescription

The caffeine alkaloid meets two of the basic requirements for it to be classified as a psychoactive drug: it generates withdrawal syndrome when it is withdrawn and produces tolerance ; each time a higher dose is needed to achieve the desired effects.

But, unlike anxiolytics, the other legal drugs most consumed in Spain under medical prescription and whose use has multiplied in recent years – the sum of alprazolam and lorazepam represents almost 28 million packages, which places them in the third place of the best-selling drugs in 2015, only behind omeprazole and paracetamol -, it is not regulated either as a drug or as a drug , because beyond irritability, at very high doses, no significant adverse effects have been found, and some beneficial.

Increased consumption of anxiolytics combined with coffee has the effect of accelerating and slowing down the nervous system

A study published in the ‘British Medical Journal’ in November last year attributes beneficial properties to it. When its consumption is moderate, it is an antioxidant as well as being a possible anticancer. However, he cautions that the daily amount should not exceed 400 mg, the equivalent of about four cups of coffee.

According to the University of Southampton study, people who drink coffee are 19% less likely to have a heart attack and 18% less likely to suffer from cancer , something that would not apply to soft drinks or energy drinks , nor to the pills that are marketed, since they are not associated with the rest of the components that are released with coffee, since caffeine is in these formats as an isolated drug.

It is not a psychotropic drug – as benzodiazepines are – because it is not used in isolation to specifically treat any ailment, but as a complement to other medications – anti-flu, antihistamines – precisely to counteract adverse effects such as drowsiness, such as as the psychiatrist Manuel Faraco explains to Alimente.

Caffeine acts as a stimulant, but is only addictive in very high doses: the ‘caffeineism’ described in the US

“Caffeine acts on the central nervous system as a stimulant, but it can only be considered an addiction: ‘caffeineism ‘, which is already described in the US, in very high doses of consumption. On the other hand, anxiolytics, which are classified as addictive, are used precisely as drugs to reduce anxiety as a depressant of the nervous system. They are not exactly antagonistic , so they have no contraindications, but it is true that one works as an accelerator and the other as a brake, so to speak ”.

If we take into account the data on the consumption of anxiolytics in Spain, it can be said that a large part of the population is using a drug that relaxes their nervous system while another accelerates it, even at low doses. A lorazepam , for example, the third best-selling drug in Spain , can induce drowsiness; a coffee or tea activates, on the other hand, the alert of the nervous system.

Doping: increase performance

This is practically the case of drugs that use caffeine to counteract their adverse effects, only that used in this way they are not tested in a laboratory and their intake increases the tolerance of both : the more lorazepam is ingested, the more caffeine is needed.

According to Manuel Faraco, energy drinks and even cola soft drinks have all the characteristics of the stimulant and none of the health benefits of coffee, as in the latest study from the University of Southampton. One of the reasons for its popularity is that, in addition to being a psychoactive drug, caffeine acts as a dopant, increasing muscle performance and heart rate, which is why it is used in sports activities.

It also increases blood pressure temporarily, although there is no dangerous relationship with hypertension, according to the majority of studies carried out to date: it is very short-term and there is no evidence that it poses any risk to develop this ailment. In very high doses, it can cause irritability and difficulty sleeping, but its most tangible effect is that of tolerance and withdrawal: which would force the nervous system to get rid of its dependence.