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Thursday, February 02, 2012

Review: Buzz, The Science and Lore of Alcohol and Caffeine

The two most common drugs in use in the world are alcohol and caffeine. Buzz is a book that tries to explain how both substances work, how they affect your brain and body, and dispels some misconceptions as well as re-affirming some wisdom about what happens.

The book is short (which is a feature) and easily read in an afternoon. The section on alcohol is interesting, explaining in detail how potent a drug it is: fundamentally, the amount of alcohol consumed in even one drink is enough to push it around in your blood stream. It also explains why you get drunk less easily on a full stomach, as well as the complex effects alcohol has on your brain, most of which isn't actually any good. He also discusses the effects of red wine, along with other beneficial health benefits of regular red wine consumption, though again with the caveat that if you don't already drink, you shouldn't start drinking in order to get the health benefits. There's also an extensive analysis of why some people drink, and how natural variances in preferences lead to some people who strongly prefer alcohol and some people don't.

Caffeine to me is the more interesting of the two drugs in question. Unlike alcohol, it's not strongly related to any sociological problems, but can also be addicting, as many of my friends who've gotten used to its effects and then tried to withdraw cold-turkey can attest. What's amazing to me is how long the half life of caffeine is in the body. It's 6-7 hours in adults, and twice that long in infants and small children. What's also amazing is that there's huge variance in people, so for some people drinking coffee in the morning can lead to a sleepless night. There's also an explanation of how caffeine works in your body and a short history of caffeine doping in the world of sports. There's an interesting section on how caffeine affects PMS, as well as another section on the effects of caffeine on fetuses. Of more practical use, there's an explanation of what kind of tasks caffeine helps with, and what caffeine fails to do. The drug is in fact complex and interacts in a complicated way with human bodies. (An interesting section in the book explains why caffeine is found in so many different plants --- it is essentially a self-defense mechanism for the plant!)

All in all, the book's well worth your time. It's well written, though not brilliantly so. Recommended.

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