Book Review: Caffeinated, An Exploration of America’s Favorite Drug

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Caffeinated by coffee enthusiast and author Murray Carpenter is a fascinating account of how America’s most popular drug goes unaccounted for in our daily lives.  A sixteenth of a teaspoon of powdered caffeine is a standard dose, while a tablespoon is lethal.  For production of commercial energy shots, sketchy manufacturing facilities in China regularly and perfectly legally ship forty-pound boxes of synthetic caffeine powder into the United States.

Natural caffeine is derived from spraying coffee beans with super-critical carbon dioxide and condensing the wash.  Synthetic caffeine, which other than having a bluish florescence, is exactly the same as natural caffeine (um… exactly).  To make synthetic caffeine, you combine urea and chloroacetic acid to produce uracil which is then used to produce synthetic theophylline, a close cousin to caffeine.  Methylate it with methyl chloride, and you have pure synthetic caffeine… “China White”… which is used in our children’s orange sodas.  It may not surprise you that the world’s first large-scale plant for the manufacture of synthetic caffeine was constructed by our friends at Monsanto Chemical Co.  If you are still worried about that bluish florescence, you will be happy to know that Pfizer came up with a fairly simple process to rinse the glow from synthetic caffeine using sodium nitrate, acetic acid, sodium carbonate, and chloroform.

Caffeinated really is a fascinating read.  If you liked Fast Food Nation or Salt, Sugar Fat, you are sure to enjoy this smartly written book, which takes you from the coffee farms of South America to the board rooms of the soft-drink industry (which is now seemingly addicted to the frenetic profit generated by energy drinks).  Cannabactivists will be interested to learn how caffeine is both used as medication and at the same time marketed and sold to children by corporate America.  Perhaps, upon reflection about what has and has not worked in the caffeine industry, we will find a way to work with the well-intentioned folks over at Smarter Approaches to prevent the corporatization of THC as we begin to legalize cannabis and incorporate it into a healthy, active, and pharmaceutical-free lifestyle.

As the legal, natural, and non-lethal cannabis market begins to standardize doses of edible THC, the cannabis community should be reaching out to the FDA asking them to deem any product containing less than ten milligrams of THC as “generally recognized as safe (GRAS),” which, incidentally, is the same ten milligram designation that the FDA “generally recognizes as safe” of the chemically-derived psychoactive (crosses the blood–brain barrier) caffeine that fills our children’s sugar-laden convenience store Slurpees (and would you like a Stuffed Doritos with that?).  Gee whiz, upon reflection, after reading Caffeinated, when we remove the fear and finally get the facts, we may begin to ask ourselves as parents more pressing questions… What does it mean to enjoy life a little bit and not get carried away to excess?  Why do we permit some drugs for children and not others?  How do we maintain control?

What examples should we, as the responsible adults, be setting… for the children?  Rather than throwing them in the back of a squad car, how may we better approach teenagers and young adults who are found to be using drugs?  Can we do a better job as a society in reaching out to them? ‘Hey, how are things going?  What are your interests?  Can we help find you some meaningful employment at a real living wage?’  Perhaps cannabis exists on its own plane of reality.  Perhaps, like the caffeine market, it needs both a solid medical model for anyone who would benefit and a functional adult recreational market, but at the same time, perhaps it could use some solid non-corporate adult supervision by actual parents of actual children, which the caffeine market seemingly lacks (just saying).  

Perhaps, for sales purposes, we could study the pros and cons of the alcohol business and, in fact, improve on it.  Perhaps for consumption safety purposes, we could look at the self-dosing aspects of caffeine, which notably appears in every corporate board room of America (and, incidentally, you can now buy a single-serving, clean, white-powdered, flavored form of which at your nearest Starbucks).

P.S.  Caffeinated nicely documents how the gentleman who invented the single-serving coffee K-Cups (the ones which have us all addicted at the office and made him a billionaire) made his first fortune by inventing the E-Z Wider rolling papers in the 1970’s for people who wanted to roll fatter joints (you can’t make this s@#$ up).  In 1980, E-Z Wider sold 91 million packs, enough to roll two billion joints.  $3.1 million from sale of the company was rolled directly into starting Green Mountain Coffee, whose wholly-owned subsidiary Keurig made us all instant home brew masters.


Photo Credit: Belleza87 under public domain via Pixabay