caffeine (kăfēnˈ) [key], odorless, slightly bitter alkaloid found in coffee, tea, kola nuts (see cola), ilex plants (the source of the Latin American drink maté), and, in small amounts, in cocoa (see cacao). It can also be prepared synthetically from uric acid. While relatively harmless, it is the most commonly used mind-altering drug in the world. When used in moderation, caffeine acts as a mild stimulant to the nervous system, blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine and resulting in a feeling of well-being and alertness. It increases the heart rate, blood pressure, and urination and stimulates secretion of stomach acids; excessive intake can result in restlessness, insomnia, and heart irregularities. The effects of caffeine vary from person to person, as people excrete it at different rates. Physical dependence and unpleasant symptoms upon withdrawal (headache, fatigue, depression) are common in regular caffeine users.
See B. A Weinberg and B. K. Bealer, The World of Caffeine (2001).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
More on caffeine from Infoplease:
See more Encyclopedia articles on: Pharmacology