Is Dr. Drew a friggin' quack?
July 30, 2008 5:24 AM   Subscribe

Is Dr. Drew a dumbass, or am I?

In this article he claims caffeine "is not actually a stimulant". I understand his reasoning: caffeine is an adenosine antagonist and this results in the brain increasing the levels of other neurotransmitters and turning up the adrenal glands in response, or something to that effect. Basically, its initial action depresses one part of the CNS.

But my understanding is that a drug is classified not by its initial action, but rather on what effect the drug has on the entire system. Thus, caffeine is a fucking stimulant.

Or am I waaaayyy off?
posted by Bathtub Bobsled to Health & Fitness (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

Caffeine is an adenosine antagonist. What this means is it decreases the amount of adenosine. (Adenosine is not produced by the adrenal glands; it is a molecule of adenine, which is a nucleic acid (part of your DNA), attached to a ribose sugar. Adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter which has a depressing effect on the CNS. Caffeine is listed as a CNS stimulant along with methamphetamine and cocaine. Therefore, Dr. Drew is full of shit.

My qualifications: I am an undergrad majoring in neuroscience with enough courses under my belt to know this. Feel free to verify this with someone who has already the qualifications that I will hopefully have in about six years (PhD in neuroscience) or equivalent sorts of knowledge about basic neurotransmitters (a neurologist).
posted by kldickson at 5:40 AM on July 30, 2008

See article for more information.
posted by kldickson at 5:42 AM on July 30, 2008

See? I have a BS in psychology with a concentration in childhood development, so I assumed that I hadn't spent enough time in that area to know more than a friggin "doctor", but whatever.

Thanks for giving me yet another reason to look at the guy in contempt when I see him on TV.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 6:10 AM on July 30, 2008

Feel free to verify this with someone who has already the qualifications...

Neurosci PhD reading over my left shoulder says "Yeah, that guy [kidickson] is right."

(I also find it really amusing that the first OSX suggestion to correct 'Neurosci" is "Prosciutto.")
posted by rokusan at 6:22 AM on July 30, 2008 [1 favorite]

Minor nitpick: Caffeine is an adenosine antagonist. What this means is it decreases the amount of adenosine.

It doesn't decrease the amount of adenosine; what it does is bind to adenosine receptors in place of the adenosine, but without activating the receptor, thus blocking the active site on the receptor and preventing it from being activated by adenosine. (Using the "lock and key" analogy, an antagonist is a key that fits in the keyhole but doesn't open the lock.)

But kldickson's main point is correct.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:47 AM on July 30, 2008 [2 favorites]

My PhD isn't neuroscience, despite the fact that my dissertation was neuroscience-based (degree is Zoology / Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Behavior).

Anyway, here's a reference for you, showing the central actions of caffeine through adenosine receptor blockade: []

However, the actual quote you are asking about is this (emphasis mine): "Caffeine is not actually a stimulant. It removes a nervous system depressant so the brain can feel stimulated." Which is basically what you already understand, made easily digestible for the layperson through oversimplification. It isn't that Dr. Drew is full of shit, necessarily, it's just that you're confusing an attempt to simplify with a lack of knowledge - you understand the issues at hand far better than the average Newsweek reader, and as such read much more in to the wording than Dr. Drew likely expects of his normal audience.
posted by caution live frogs at 6:50 AM on July 30, 2008 [5 favorites]

Just to further agree: I do have a PhD in neuroscience, and yep, kldickson has got it on the whole with DevilsAdvocate's nitpick getting it exactly right.

And I totally agree that when talking about drugs to lay people, the overall effect of the drug to the body is way more important than getting (wrongly) into the molecular actions of it.
posted by gaspode at 7:37 AM on July 30, 2008

Also, doesn't Dr Drew's only-the-initial-action-counts approach also rule out most stimulants?
posted by winston at 8:02 AM on July 30, 2008

If you want to be super-nitpicky, it would be wrong to call caffeine an adenosine antagonist. It's an adenosine receptor antagonist. It's a competitive inhibitor of adenosine, which is the endogenous ligand of the adenosine receptor.
posted by mr_roboto at 9:57 AM on July 30, 2008

Thanks for the correction, DevilsAdvocate. I broadly meant that, and I should have said that - yes, it indeed decreases the amount of adenosine which can bind to the receptors on neurons. I think Dr. Drew's definition of 'stimulant' is a bit off, since drugs are usually classed as stimulants or depressants (please feel free to correct me) based on what they do to a person's normal, uh, mental state - do they make people go supersuperfastLALALALA or urgh slow I think I'm going to sleep?
posted by kldickson at 11:20 AM on July 30, 2008

haha mr_roboto, I yell at my students for doing that all the time. Busted!
posted by gaspode at 11:21 AM on July 30, 2008

And thanks for the correction, mr_roboto.
posted by kldickson at 11:22 AM on July 30, 2008

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