Caffeine

We all love our caffeine hit in the morning, but what is this magic ‘energy’ giving substance and is it actually good for us?

The IUPAC name for caffeine is 1,3,7-Trimethylpurine-2,6-dione and the molecule has the following structure:

By Vaccinationist – Own work, based on PubChem, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54417143

Interestingly, you may notice that the structure is similar to adenosine and guanine (DNA purine bases) – the clue comes from the name.

Caffeine is a psychoactive drug, which puts it in the same group of drugs such as amphetamine, cocaine, nicotine and alcohol. Psychoactive drugs affect the brain by changing perception, mood and even cognitive functions. Caffeine is also the world’s most readily consumed psychoactive drug.

The substance is naturally occurring and is found in both seeds, nuts and leaves in a number of plants around Africa, Asia and South America, which indicates to me that there was once a common ancestor that has evolved into different species. The function of it seems to be deter insects from eating the leaves, seeds or nuts and presumably to attract (due to its psychoactive properties) mammal to ingest the seeds and nuts, aiding the dispersion of them.

Caffeine extraction is always a popular EE topic and, with the right lab equipment is relatively easy to extract and a link to an untried method for this can be found here:

https://www.open.edu/openlearn/science-maths-technology/science/chemistry/diy-taking-the-caffeine-out-tea

A word of warning though – like all good EE’s, ensure you have a robust research question. Please do not just try to ‘extract caffeine from coffee’ if you are going down this route as it will not score very well. It’s a popular type of EE so you need to come up with something a bit different or unusual.

Caffeine can have both good and bad effects on the body. It can give protection against some diseases such as Parkinson’s disease and help treat infant breathing disorders, as well as the obvious benefit in increasing mental alertness.

However, it does have some negative effects as well. It is addictive – that’s why we crave it so much in the morning and if we don’t have it, suffer from withdrawal symptoms. We get irritable, tired and even have headaches. It is also a diuretic – it causes us to pass urine more frequently and excess caffeine consumption can therefore cause dehydration. The body also builds up a tolerance to the drug – we get used to having it, so we need more of it to stimulate ourselves.

Have you been thinking of carrying out some investigative work on caffeine for your EE (or IA)? If so, what are you thinking of doing? Please feel free to post your ideas below as I would love to hear what they are.

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