On Drugs

How caffeine became the world's most widely used psychoactive drug

This episode spills the surprising history behind your cup of Joe — including a caffeine-fueled moral panic at the beginning of the last century.

Caffeine confessions: a buzzed history

(AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File) (The Associated Press)

People have been using caffeine in one form or another for thousands of years. And for at least a century, people have been fretting about what it does to our health and our moral condition. This episode dives into the history and significance of the most widely used psychoactive drug on earth.

It's hard to know whether the ancient peoples of what is now Chiapas, Mexico had misgivings about the health effects of caffeine. But we do know they made a caffeinated coffee beverage central to their culture. They may have even made it part of rituals of human sacrifice.

People were using caffeine quite some time ago. They were growing it, sometimes using the cacao beans themselve as form of currency and in some cases it was even used in rituals of human sacrifice- Murray Carpenter

While contemporary coffee guzzlers might not take it to that extreme, people are really getting their fix. Whether it's coffee, tea, energy drinks or even caffeinated gum, we like that buzz.

  • Author Murray Carpenter will describe how Coke created a moral panic over caffeine at the beginning of the last century.
  • Maggie Sweeney will explain how your caffeine habit relates to other drug dependencies.