Archive for December, 2010

Pretty Lights – A hot DJ in the making

Posted: December 28, 2010 in creativity
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Just downloaded a whole collection of Pretty Light’s albums, including the latest (“Glowing In The Darkest Night“) from his website. Pretty lights is actually Derek Vincent Smith, a DJ with quite amazing skills who weaves masterpieces of downtempo-hip hop-electronica, sometimes with blues, jazz and soul undertones. But rather than struggling for words, I’d like to use Kyle’s at Aurgasm describing his earlier albums:

Organic, soulful, electronified and good-feeling vibes, freely shared by Colorado producer Derek Vincent Smith. [Several] hours of this Pretty Lights sound [are] available for free on his website [although a donation can be made and is more than deserved]. It’s a vivid collage of continuity, enriched with robust beats, eloquently laced vocal samples that range from nostalgic to serene, both compelling and entertaining, with a diverse selection of instruments all aimed towards enjoyment.

Glowing In The Darkest Night is moving away away from chill and downtempo with its funky soul hip hop and its distorting vocals, glitchy sounds, hard hitting snares, soul searching piano riffs and rocking beats. It’s a melting pot of sounds and styles – and I haven’t even listended to this year’s two other EP’s yet that with this latest creation form part of a trilogy. Certainly looking forward to it :).

Here are some reviews to get more impressions:

Ending the futile war on drugs

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Sydney Morning Herald

December 27, 2010

Prohibition has failed and we must redirect our efforts to the harm caused by drugs, and to reducing consumption.

The war on drugs is a lost war, and 2011 is the time to move away from a punitive approach in order to pursue a new set of policies based on public health, human rights, and commonsense. These were the core findings of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy that I convened, together with former presidents Ernesto Zedillo of Mexico and Cesar Gaviria of Colombia.

We became involved with this issue for a compelling reason: the violence and corruption associated with drug trafficking represents a major threat to democracy in our region. This sense of urgency led us to evaluate current policies and look for viable alternatives. The evidence is overwhelming. The prohibitionist approach, based on repression of production and criminalisation of consumption, has clearly failed.

After 30 years of massive effort, all prohibition has achieved is to shift areas of cultivation and drug cartels from one country to another (the so-called balloon effect). Latin America remains the world’s largest exporter of cocaine and marijuana. Thousands of young people continue to lose their lives in gang wars. Drug lords rule by fear over entire communities.

We ended our report with a call for a paradigm shift. The illicit drug trade will continue as long as there is demand for drugs. Instead of sticking to failed policies that do not reduce the profitability of the drug trade – and thus its power – we must redirect our efforts to the harm caused by drugs to people and societies, and to reducing consumption.

Some kind of drug consumption has existed throughout history in the most diverse cultures. Today, drug use occurs throughout society. All kinds of people use drugs for all kinds of reasons: to relieve pain or experience pleasure, to escape reality or enhance their perception of it.

But the approach recommended in the commission’s statement does not imply complacency. Drugs are harmful to health. They undermine users’ decision-making capacity. Needle-sharing spreads HIV/AIDS and other diseases. Addiction can lead to financial ruin and domestic abuse, especially of children.

Cutting consumption as much as possible must, therefore, be the main goal. But this requires treating drug users not as criminals to be incarcerated, but as patients to be cared for. Several countries are pursuing policies that emphasise prevention and treatment rather than repression – and refocusing their repressive measures on fighting the real enemy: organised crime.

The crack in the global consensus around the prohibitionist approach is widening. A growing number of countries in Europe and Latin America are moving away from a purely repressive model.

Portugal and Switzerland are compelling examples of the positive impact of policies centred on prevention, treatment, and harm reduction. Both countries have decriminalised drug possession for personal use. Instead of leading to an explosion of drug consumption, as many feared, the number of people seeking treatment increased and overall drug use fell.

When the policy approach shifts from criminal repression to public health, drug users are more open to seeking treatment. Decriminalisation of consumption also reduces dealers’ power to influence and control consumers’ behaviour.

In our report, we recommend evaluating from a public-health standpoint – and on the basis of the most advanced medical science – the merits of decriminalising possession of cannabis for personal use.

Marijuana is by far the most widely used drug. There is a growing body of evidence suggesting that the harm it causes is at worst similar to the harm caused by alcohol or tobacco. Moreover, most of the damage associated with marijuana use – from the indiscriminate incarceration of consumers to the violence and corruption associated with the drug trade – is the result of current prohibitionist policies.

Decriminalisation of cannabis would thus be an important step forward in approaching drug use as a health problem and not as a matter for the criminal justice system.

To be credible and effective, decriminalisation must be combined with robust prevention campaigns. The steep and sustained drop in tobacco consumption in recent decades shows that public information and prevention campaigns can work when based on messages that are consistent with the experience of those whom they target. Tobacco was deglamorised, taxed, and regulated; it has not been banned.

No country has devised a comprehensive solution to the drug problem. But a solution need not require a stark choice between prohibition and legalisation. The worst prohibition is the prohibition to think. Now, at last, the taboo that prevented debate has been broken. Alternative approaches are being tested and must be carefully reviewed.

At the end of the day, the capacity of people to evaluate risks and make informed choices will be as important to regulating the use of drugs as more humane and efficient laws and policies. Yes, drugs erode people’s freedom. But it is time to recognise that repressive policies towards drug users, rooted as they are in prejudice, fear, and ideology, may be no less a threat to liberty.

Fernando Henrique Cardoso, a former president of Brazil (1995-2002), is co-chairman of the Latin American Commission on Drugs and Democracy, and convener of the Global Commission on Drug Policy. Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2010.

Upringing in Modern Life

Posted: December 26, 2010 in creativity
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Modern Life (Wooster Collective)

“Known to its creators and participating artists as the Underbelly Project, the space, where all the show’s artworks remain, defies every norm of the gallery scene. Collectors can’t buy the art. The public can’t see it. And the only people with a chance of stumbling across it are the urban explorers who prowl the city’s hidden infrastructure or employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.”

The abandoned and unfinished station

Zigzag flag by Faile in the abandoned subway station

The dining table is an installation by Jeff Stark

Damon Ginandes, a New York artist, putting the finishing touches on his painting

All images New York Times – go there too to read the fascinating whole story. Via Streetkonekt.

[Music by Air: La Femme d’Argent]

Iranian Grafitti

Posted: December 26, 2010 in creativity
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Some awesome Iranian street art on this Flickr site – makes you wonder how much worse the Mullahs’ attitude is to this kind of street art than the already bad one here in the West …

The number is shocking and sobering. It is at least 10 times greater than most estimates cited in the US media, yet it is based on a scientific study of violent Iraqi deaths caused by the U.S.-led invasion of March 2003.


Iraq Deaths Estimator

Sign the petition telling Congress that about a million Iraqis have likely been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. Help us expose to Congress the true costs of war.

A study, published in prestigious medical journal The Lancet, estimated that over 600,000 Iraqis had been killed as a result of the invasion as of July 2006. Iraqis have continued to be killed since then. The death counter provides a rough daily update of this number based on a rate of increase derived from the Iraq Body Count. (See the complete explanation.)

The estimate that over a million Iraqis have died received independent confirmation from a prestigious British polling agency in September 2007. Opinion Research Business estimated that 1.2 million Iraqis have been killed violently since the US-led invasion.

This devastating human toll demands greater recognition. It eclipses the Rwandan genocide and our leaders are directly responsible. Little wonder they do not publicly cite it. You can use the simple HTML code above to post the counter to your website to help spread the word.

Add your name to the petition telling Congress that about a million Iraqis have likely been killed since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

Help us continue this important work with a tax-deductible contribution.

See the list of some folks we know have posted the counter.

Alternate Languages:

If you want to remind visitors to your site of the awful human costs of continued war, you can post the Iraqi Death Estimator on your website. To get the code go to Just Foreign Policy.

Marketers are tracking smartphone users through “apps” – games and other software on their phones. Some apps collect information including location, unique serial-number-like identifiers for the phone, and personal details such as age and sex. Apps routinely send the information to marketing companies that use it to compile dossiers on phone users. As part of the “What They Know” investigative series into data privacy, the Journal analyzed the data collected and shared by 101 popular apps on iPhone and Android phones (including the Journal’s own iPhone app).

To look at the issue in more detail, in particular use the interactive database that shows the behavior of these apps and describes what each of them told users about the information it gathered, go to the Wall Street Journal Blog.

Image via TheDeliciousLife

Alcohol, like caffeine, has an enormous reputation but loose understanding in popular culture. Learn how it affects your memory, social responses, how it’s absorbed, and why it lengthens your life, red wine or otherwise.

Everyone, it seems, takes their cues on how alcohol affects the mind and body from an eclectic mix of knowledge: personal experience, pop culture, tall tales of long nights, the latest studies to make the health news wires, and second-hand tips. You might have gathered that alcohol is a depressant, that it’s dehydrating, that you can drink about one drink an hour and stay relatively sober. Some of that is true. But much of it depends on a large number of factors.

Let’s dig into some of things we do and don’t know about alcohol. Relevant sources are linked where cited, but much of the background material comes from Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine (new-ish Kindle edition linked there). It’s a science-based tome written in a clear language by Stephen Braun, and was the main reference for our take on caffeine.

We’re taking a few things for granted here: that you understand some of the basics of alcohol consumption, blood alcohol content, legal limits, what it feels like when you’ve had too much to drink, and the serious illness of alcoholism. We’re not trying to help you get loaded quicker, or drink more for longer periods. We’re digging into some of the science behind how you and alcohol interact.

It Works Differently on Full Stomachs, Young Women, Some Asians and Aspirin Takers

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Your body sees alcohol as a poison, or at least as something it doesn’t actually want inside it. To fight back, and sober you up, humans have evolved to produce an enzyme called alcohol dehydrogenase.

That enzyme gets its shot at your alcohol when it attempts to pass through the stomach lining, and when it reaches your liver, primarily. On contact, it snatches a hydrogen atom off the ethanolmolecules in your drink, rendering it into non-intoxicating acetaldehyde. Humans can then usealdehyde dehydrogenase as a kind of clean-up crew, breaking down the acetaldehyde that’s sometimes considered a cause of hangovers, along with dehydration. (For more on the myths versus reality of hangovers, see our guide to hangover cures).

Seems pretty simple, no? It’s a fight between how much you can drink, versus how fast your enzymes can bust down your indulgences and their byproducts. But many factors affect certain people’s production of the two alcohol-crushing compounds:

• Alcohol dehydrogenase (AD) is, for reasons not wholly understood, more effective in men than in women. Young men, in fact, may have up to 70 to 80 per cent greater enzyme activity in the presence of alcohol. But men’s AD effectiveness also drops off with age at a faster rate than in women, such that, by around 55 or 60, men may find themselves able to handle less alcohol than their female counterparts, all other factors being equal.

Image via peretzpup.

• A full stomach helps break down alcohol, but because your food “soaks up” the alcohol. When you eat a big meal, your stomach’s pyloric sphincter, a kind of release valve into the small intestine, closes tightly. Your body knows that you’ve got food that should get a good going-over in your stomach before it heads straight to the high-absorption small intestine, so it keeps it there, and the AD in your stomach has more time to work on the alcohol. Drink on an empty stomach, and the liquid quickly makes it into the small intestine, where there’s more than 200sqm of surface area for absorption into your body.

• Another big factor in alcohol absorption, and alcohol’s effects, is genetics. Your great-great-grandparents have a say in how buzzed your Friday night gets, for sure, but for roughly one-third to half of Asian drinkers, it’s more than a slight variance. Alcohol flush reaction, a flushing of the face when drinking, occurs because the enzyme “clean-up crew”, aldehyde dehydrogenase, is mutated by just one amino acid. That changes how effective its molecules are in bonding with, and busting up, acetaldehyde. With excess acetaldehyde in their system, those with a flush reaction get red-faced, and can experience heart palpitations, dizziness, and severe nausea in extreme cases. Your own genetic makeup of AD and aldehyde dehydrogenase affect your ability to break down alcohol and its byproducts in similar fashion.

• Don’t take aspirin before drinking, unless you love hangovers. Aspirin seriously cuts the effectiveness of your body’s AD enzymes. In one 1990 study, the average blood alcohol levels of those who took two maximum strength aspiring tablets before drinking were an average of 26 per cent higher than those who were aspirin-free. Other studies have suggested even more impact on your body’s ability to break down alcohol. That also means more acetaldehyde in your system down the line, so you’ll learn your lesson quickly if you’re considering aspirin as a “helper.”

It Extends Your Life — Kind Of

Image via LINXBAS

Every few weeks, it seems, a new study suggests a glass of wine, or sometimes any old drink, lengthens your life if you don’t overdo it. Plucking just one out of the pile, you’ll see that in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, researchers followed 1824 people over a total of 20 years, as they aged between 55 and 65. Of those who abstained entirely, 69 percent died. Among those who drank in “moderate” amounts, 41 per cent died — which was 23 per cent less than the “light” drinkers. Even “heavy drinkers” fared better than abstainers, with just 61 per cent passing away during the study period.

How could a substance that everybody and their five brothers tell you to go easy on extend your life? Popular theories centre on the antioxidants and reservatrol compounds found in wines, or on the studies showing alcohol as increasing levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

But Jonah Lehrer at Wired points out the not-so-obvious: the link between a longer life and alcohol may not be direct, but it’s likely very real. It relates to the long-term benefits of reducing stress, as well as alcohol’s role in facilitating get-togethers and acting as a “social lubricant”:

What does this have to do with longevity? In recent years, sociologists and epidemiologists have begun studying the long-term effects (Direct PDF link) of loneliness. It turns out to be really dangerous. We are social primates, and when we’re cut off from the social network, we are more likely to die from just about everything (but especially heart disease). At this point, the link between abstinence and social isolation is merely hypothetical. But given the extensive history of group drinking—it’s what we do when we come together—it seems likely that drinking in moderation makes it easier for us develop and nurture relationships. And it’s these relationships that help keep us alive.

Theoretically, then, you might get some of the same benefits if you were a savvy, social Diet Coke drinker. But it’s likely a combination of actual alcohol effects, along with their social expressions, that leads to study after study showing drinkers as getting some kind of life-extending benefit.

It Doesn’t “Kill” Brain Cells, but Does Inhibit Them

It’s true that at high concentrations, like the nearly 100 per cent pure alcohol used in sterilising solutions, alcohol can indeed kill cells and neurons (and nearly anything else). But given that the blood reaching your brain is only at 0.08 per cent alcohol if you’re legally intoxicated, or, say, 0.25 per cent if you’ve just closed a major deal in Tokyo.

Don’t believe it? A major study by Grethe Jensen and colleagues in 1993 matched brain samples taken from both alcoholics and nonalcoholics, from groups of the two dead from non-alcohol-related causes. There were no significant differences found in either the number or density of brain cells between the groups. Misconception Junction tackles Jensen’s study and the topic in more depth.

What alcohol can and does do to your brain is affect the way your neurons get their firing triggers from glutamate. It infiltrates the glutamate receptors in your synapses, hurting their ability to send off their normal “fire” messages. Alcohol has this impact all across your brain — the parts that control muscles, speech, coordination, judgement, and so on. Keep that in mind the next time you or someone else claims that they drive, golf or otherwise perform some task better with alcohol’s help. As Stephen Braun puts it in Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine:

Substances such as cocaine and LSD work like pharmacological scalpels, altering the functioning of only one or a handful of brain circuits. Alcohol is more like a pharmacological hand grenade. It affects practically everything around it.

It Makes Other People Seem More “Intentional”

Image via terren in Virginia.

If you’d never been raised to think things through, you’d assume that most actions people took were fairly intentional, and possibly pointed at causing you harm. The same holds when people are asked to make snap judgements about things happening. But give yourself any amount of time, and you’ll generally think out all the reasons something could have happened, avoiding your natural intentionality bias and preventing heated arguments with otherwise close friends, bar altercations, and 80 percent of all reality show plots.

But, as you might have guessed, that reasoned thinking gets lost when there’s a night’s worth of alcohol moving through your brain. In the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers detail a study with 92 men, made to go three hours without food, then given a shot of either juice, or juice with more than a shot of pure alcohol. All the glasses were rimmed with alcohol to mask the placebos. The men thought they took part in a taste test, then did unrelated tasks for 30 minutes.

After that, they were asked to determine whether a series of deliberate, accidental or vague stated actions (“He deleted the email”, “She looked for her keys”, “She tripped on the jump rope”, etc) were deliberate or accidental. Ars Technica sums up the results:

Nearly all the participants, no matter what condition, judged all the unambiguous statements correctly. However, when the actions were ambiguous and could have been performed either intentionally or unintentionally, the “drunk” participants were much more likely to perceive the actions as deliberate than the sober participants were.

The study showed that it didn’t much matter whether a man thought he was drunk; the jump to conclusions about an intention only took place when someone actually did have too much in them.

It’s a Terrible Sleep Aid

Image via Ella’s Dad.

Ever heard the term “nightcap?” People have long believed that alcohol helps you get to sleep — and that part can be true, for some. Once you’re asleep, though, alcohol’s interaction with your brain can lead to some fitful sleep — and no sleep at all, especially if you consumed caffeine anytime close to hitting the pillow.

Just as with caffeine, your brain proves remarkably adept at adapting itself and responding to the ethanol molecules jamming up its receptors and interfering with neuron firings. It takes a bit for the brain to catch up, though, and when your brain starts kicking in and reclaiming all its nooks and crannies, it can wreak havoc on your crucial REM sleep, along with your more passive, general resting. If you’ve had caffeine, too, it’s a drug that can take up to five hours to break down half a dose. If it’s in your system at the same time as your brain is trying to compensate for alcohol, the combined “revenge” of both drugs can lead to some fairly restless sleep, according to Braun’s Buzz.

By Kevin Purdy via LifeHacker

For all of its wild popularity, caffeine is one seriously misunderstood substance. It’s not a simple upper, and it works differently on different people with different tolerances — even in different menstrual cycles. But you can make it work better for you.

Photo by rbrwr.

We’ve covered all kinds of caffeine “hacks” here at Lifehacker, from taking “caffeine naps” to getting “optimally wired”. But when it comes to why so many of us love our coffee, tea or soft-drink fixes, and what they actually do to our busy brains, we’ve never really dug in.

While there’s a whole lot one can read on caffeine, most of it falls in the realm of highly specific medical research or often conflicting anecdotal evidence. Luckily one intrepid reader and writer has actually done that reading, weighed that evidence and put together a highly readable treatise on the subject.Buzz: The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine, by Stephen R. Braun, is well worth the short 224-page read. It was released in 1997, but remains the most accessible treatise on what is and isn’t understood about what caffeine and alcohol do to the brain. It’s not a social history of coffee, or a lecture on the evils of mass-market soft drinks — it’s condensed but clean science.

What follows is a brief explainer on how caffeine affects productivity, drawn from Buzz and other sources noted at bottom. We also sent Braun a few of the questions that arose while reading, and he graciously agreed to answer them.

Caffeine Doesn’t Actually Get You Wired

Right off the bat, it’s worth stating again: the human brain and caffeine are nowhere near totally understood and easily explained by modern science. That said, there is a general consensus on how a compound found all over nature, caffeine, affects the mind.

Every moment that you’re awake, the neurons in your brain are firing away. As those neurons fire, they produce adenosine as a byproduct, but adenosine is far from excrement. Your nervous system is actively monitoring adenosine levels through receptors. Normally when adenosine levels reached a certain point in your brain and spinal cord, your body will start nudging you toward sleep, or at least taking it easy. There are actually a few different adenosine receptors throughout the body, but the one caffeine seems to interact with most directly is the A1 receptor. More on that later.

Enter caffeine. It occurs in all kinds of plants, and chemical relatives of caffeine are found in your own body. But taken in substantial amounts — the semi-standard 100mg that comes from a strong eight-ounce coffee, for instance — it functions as a supremely talented adenosine impersonator. It heads right for the adenosine receptors in your system and, because of its similarities to adenosine, it’s accepted by your body as the real thing and gets into the receptors.

More important than just fitting in, though, caffeine actually binds to those receptors in efficient fashion, but doesn’t activate them — they’re plugged up by caffeine’s unique shape and chemical makeup. With those receptors blocked, the brain’s own stimulants,dopamine and glutamante, can do their work more freely — “Like taking the chaperones out of a high school dance,” Braun writes in an email. In the book, he ultimately likens caffeine’s powers to “putting a block of wood under one of the brain’s primary brake pedals”.

It’s an apt metaphor, because it spells out that caffeine very clearly doesn’t press the “gas” on your brain, and that it only blocks a “primary” brake. There are other compounds and receptors that have an effect on what your energy levels feel like — GABA, for example — but caffeine is crude way of preventing your brain from bringing things to a halt. “You can,” Braun writes, “get wired only to the extent that your natural excitatory neurotransmitters support it.” In other words, you can’t use caffeine to completely wipe out an entire week’s worth of very late nights of studying, but you can use it to make yourself feel less bogged down by sleepy feelings in the morning.

These effects will vary, in length and strength of effect, from person to person, depending on genetics, other physiology factors, and tolerance. But more on that in a bit. What’s important to take away is that caffeine is not as simple in effect as a direct stimulant, such as amphetamines or cocaine; its effect on your alertness is far more subtle.

It Boosts Your Speed, But Not Your Skill — Depending On Your Skill Set

Johann Sebastian Bach loved him some coffee. So did Voltaire, Balzac and many other great minds. But the type of work they did didn’t necessarily get a boost from their prodigious coffee consumption — unless their work was so second-nature to them that it felt like data entry.

The general consensus on caffeine studies shows that it can enhance work output, but mainly in certain types of work. For tired people who are doing work that’s relatively straightforward, that doesn’t require lots of subtle or abstract thinking, coffee has been shown to help increase output and quality. Caffeine has also been seen to improve memory creation and retention when it comes to “declarative memory”, the kind students use to remember lists or answers to exam questions.

(In a semi-crazy side note we couldn’t resist, researchers have implied this memory boost may be tied to caffeine’s effect on adrenaline production. You have, presumably, sharper memories of terrifying or exhilarating moments in life, due in part to your body’s fight-or-flight juice. Everyone has their “Where I was when I heard that X died” story, plugging in John F. Kennedy, John Lennon or Kurt Cobain, depending on generational relatability).

Then again, one study in which subjects proofread text showed that a measurable boost was mainly seen by those who could be considered “impulsive” or willing to sacrifice accuracy and quality for speed. And the effect was only seen in morning tests, indicating the subjects may have either become lightly dependent on caffeine, or were more disposed to such tasks at that time of day.

So when it comes to caffeine’s effects on your work, think speed, not power. Or consider it an unresolved question. If we’re only part of the way to understanding how caffeine effects the brain, we’re a long way to knowing exactly what kind of chemicals or processes are affected when, say, one writes a post about caffeine science one highly caffeinated afternoon.

For a more direct look at what happens to your brain when there’s caffeine in your system, we turn to the the crew at Current. They hooked up one of their reporters to a brain monitor while taking on some new caffeine habits and share their brains on caffeine:

Effectiveness, Tolerance And Headaches

Why do so many patients coming out of anaesthesia after major surgery feel a headache? It’s because, in most cases, they’re not used to going so long without coffee. The good news? If they wait a few more days, they can start saving coffee again for when they really need it.

The effectiveness of caffeine varies significantly from person to person, due to genetics and other factors in play. The average half-life of caffeine — that is, how long it takes for half of an ingested dose to wear off — is about five to six hours in a human body. Women taking oral birth control require about twice as long to process caffeine. Women between the onset of ovulation and beginning of menstruation see a similar, if less severe, extended half-life. For regular smokers, caffeine takes half as long to process — which, in some ways, explains why smokers often drink more coffee and feel more agitated and anxious, because they’re unaware of how their bodies work without cigarettes.

As one starts to regularly take in caffeine, the body and mind build up a tolerance to it, so getting the same kind of boost as one’s first-ever sip takes more caffeine — this, researchers can agree on. Exactly how that tolerance developers is not so clear cut. Many studies have suggested that, just as with any drug addiction, the brain strives to return to its normal function while under “attack” from caffeine by up-regulating or creating more adenosine receptors. But regular caffeine use has also been shown to decrease receptors for norepinephrine, a hormone akin to adrenaline, along with serotonin, a mood enhancer. At the same time, your body can see a 65 per cent increase in receptors for GABA, a compound that does many things, including regulate muscle tone and neuron firing. Caffeine, it’s been suggested, is probably not directly responsible for all these changes. By keeping your brain from using its normal “I’m tired” sensors though, your caffeine may be causing the brain to change the way all of its generally excitable things are regulated. Your next venti double shot goes a little less far each time, in any case. Photo by zoghal.

A 1995 study suggests that humans become tolerant to their daily dose of caffeine — whether a single soda or a serious espresso habit — somewhere between a week and 12 days. And that tolerance is pretty strong. One test of regular caffeine pill use had some participants getting an astronomical 900 milligrams per day, others placebos — found that the two groups were nearly identical in mood, energy and alertness after 18 days. The folks taking the equivalent of nine stiff coffee pours every day weren’t really feeling it anymore. They would feel it, though, when they stopped.

You start to feel caffeine withdrawal very quickly, anywhere from 12 to 24 hours after your last use. That’s a big part of why that first cup in the morning is so important — it’s staving off the early effects of withdrawal. The reasons for the withdrawal are the same as with any substance dependency — your brain was used to operating one way, and now it’s suddenly working under completely different circumstances. Headaches are the nearly universal effect of cutting off caffeine, but depression, fatigue, lethargy, irritability, nausea and vomiting can be part of your cut-off too, along with more specific issues, like eye muscle spasms. Generally, though, you’ll be over it in around 10 days — again, depending on your own physiology and other factors.

Getting Out Of The Habit And Learning To Tame Caffeine

Beyond the equivalent of four cups of coffee in your system at once, caffeine isn’t giving you much more boost — in fact, at around the 10-cup level, you’re probably less alert than non-drinkers. So what if you want to start getting a real boost from caffeine once again, in a newly learned, less dependent way?

Our own Jason Fitzpatrick has both intentionally “quit” coffee, as well as just plain run out of coffee. Being the kind of guy who measures his own headaches and discomfort, he suggests measuring your caffeine intake, using caffeine amounts in all your drinks, chocolate and other “boosting” foods.Wise Bread has a good roundup of caffeine amounts, and the Buzz Vs The Bulge chart also shows how many calories you’ll be cutting if you start scaling back. Once you know your levels, map out a multi-week process of scaling down, and stick to it. Jason also suggests that dependency kicking is a good time to start taking walks, doing breathing exercises or other mind-clearing things, because, in his experience, their effects are much greater when caffeine is not so much a part of your make-up.

Braun, author of Buzz, sees it the same way, but still uses coffee — strategically, according to our email exchange:

In practical terms, this means that if you’d like to be able to turn to caffeine when you need it for a quick, effective jolt, it’s best to let your brain “dry out” for at least several days prior to administration. This is actually my current mode of consumption. I don’t regularly drink coffee anymore (gasp).

This from a man who loved (and wore out) his home espresso maker. I love coffee in all its guises. But after 30+ years it wasn’t working for me. For one thing, the problem with caffeine is that there are adenosine receptors all over the body, including muscles. For me, that meant that caffeine made me vaguely stiff and sore, and it aggravated a tender lower back that was prone to spasm. But I also just wasn’t getting a clean, clear buzz from coffee…I drank so much, so regularly, that drinking an extra cup or two didn’t do a helluva lot except, perhaps, make me a little more irritable.

So about a year ago I slowly tapered down, and now I have, if anything, a cup of tea (half black, half peppermint) in the morning. (The amount of caffeine from the black tea isn’t enough to wire a gnat.) Not only does my body feel better now, my brain is clean of caffeine, so I really want (or need) a good neural jump-start, I will freely…nay, ecstatically…indulge. Then I stop and let the brain settle again.

That’s the theory, anyway…and it’s basically true, although I’ll freely admit that sometimes I have an espresso or coffee just because it tastes so damned good.

That’s our attempt at summing up the science and common understanding of caffeine in one post. There is, as you can imagine, a lot more to explore — Braun’s Buzz is a good starting point, but you’ll find your own way from there. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned about caffeine, either from reading or personal experience? Share the science in the comments.