Of Brain and Mental Disorders

These days I was sprawled on the couch, flipping through channels in the hope to find the History Channel – TV system at my house just turned digital and wreaked havoc on the remote control – and ended up on TV5, the French channel. First I thought it was some kind of quiz show, since a man was asked to calculate the 13th root of a string that had 30 numbers in less than a minute. He answered it in 10 sec. When the host asked him how he managed to calculate it, he simply answered: “I did not calculate anything. I just memorised all the possible results up to three numbers to the 20th power”, or something to that effect. Then appeared the ‘real hosts’ (in fact, they were those virtual reality models) on spaceships that flew among the guests, talking about the wonders the brain can do. Eventually the subject drifted to the marriage of the brain and the machine, cyborgs and the whole Borg thing and it ended up with ‘Ghost in the Shell’ opening scene. I thought, “What kind of serious TV documentary shows things like this?!?”, and bookmarked the channel.

Talking about the brain, I was listening to an interview about how ‘Autism is not a disease, just like being gay is not’. What they meant by this ‘unfortunate’ comparison was that Autism should not be treated as a mental disorder, just like a different way of perception, since people with have got high sensory sensitivity and hence try to avoid certain situations. Therefore, they wanted to take Autism out of the DSM. You can listen to it here: Interview on Autism. Personally, I believe they were talking about highly functional Autism, what some call ‘afflicted with Asperger’s Syndrome’. Of course, there are those who claim this syndrome does not exist.

Following links related to what should and what should not be in the infamous DSM, I came across… caffeine. Please read the article below:


If you missed your morning coffee and now you have a headache and difficulty concentrating, you might be able to blame it on caffeine withdrawal. In general, the more caffeine consumed, the more severe withdrawal symptoms are likely to be, but as little as one standard cup of coffee a day can produce caffeine addiction, according to a Johns Hopkins study that reviewed over 170 years of caffeine withdrawal research.

Results of the Johns Hopkins study should result in caffeine withdrawal being included in the next edition of the DSM or the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, considered the bible of mental disorders, and the diagnosis should be updated in the World Health Organization’s ICD, or The International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems.

“Caffeine is the world’s most commonly used stimulant, and it’s cheap and readily available so people can maintain their use of caffeine quite easily,” says Roland Griffiths, Ph.D., professor of psychiatry and neuroscience at Johns Hopkins. “The latest research demonstrates, however, that when people don’t get their usual dose they can suffer a range of withdrawal symptoms, including headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating. They may even feel like they have the flu with nausea and muscle pain.”


The researchers identified five clusters of common withdrawal symptoms: headache; fatigue or drowsiness; dysphoric mood including depression and irritability; difficulty concentrating; and flu-like symptoms of nausea, vomiting and muscle pain or stiffness. In experimental studies, 50 percent of people experienced headache and 13 percent had clinically significant distress or functional impairment — for example, severe headache and other symptoms incompatible with working. Typically, onset of symptoms occurred 12 to 24 hours after stopping caffeine, with peak intensity between one and two days, and for a duration of two to nine days. In general, the incidence or severity of symptoms increased with increases in daily dose, but abstinence from doses as low as 100 milligrams per day, or about one small cup of coffee, also produced symptoms.

The research also showed that avoidance of caffeine withdrawal symptoms motivates regular use of caffeine. For example, the satisfying feelings and perceived benefits that many coffee users experience from their morning coffee appear to be a simple reversal of the negative effects of caffeine withdrawal after overnight abstinence.


According to the report, caffeine is the most widely used behaviorally active drug in the world. In North America, 80 percent to 90 percent of adults report regular use of caffeine. Average daily intake of caffeine among caffeine consumers in the United States is about 280 milligrams, or about one to two mugs of coffee or three to five bottles of soft drink, with higher intakes estimated in some European countries. In the United States, coffee and soft drinks are the most common sources of caffeine, with almost half of caffeine consumers ingesting caffeine from multiple sources, including tea.

However, take a look of the benefits of caffeine concerning ADD.

Can caffeine be used as a natural alternative to ADHD medication?

The active part of caffeine is methylxanthine is a mild stimulant that activates noradrenaline neurons and seems to affect the local release of dopamine, a key neurotransmitter. Dopamine plays a part in motor control and a low dopamine level is believed to be the cause of Parkinson’s disease which effect patients ability to control their movement. Another notable effect of caffeine is that it reduces the blood flow in the brain. This is similar to the effect of ADHD medications, such as Ritalin, that are stimulants, effect dopamine levels and cerebral blood flow. The cognitive effects of caffeine are also similar to ADD / ADHD medication. It makes users better a rapidly processing information and paying attention.

Studies on non-ADHD school children and caffeine are mixed. A 1987 study on Kindergarden children found no noticeable effect where as a 1994 on prepubertal children found that it did improve attention and manual dexterity. On children with ADD / ADHD the results are bit more promising. A 1973 pilot study used two cups of coffee a day as an alternative for medications and the results were promising. In 1981 caffeine was used as an alternative and as a supplement to medication. It found that caffeine in low dosage had the same effect as 10 mg of methylphenidate.

So coffee withdrawal is a mental disorder and yet its intake can help in another mental disorder.



2 Responses to “Of Brain and Mental Disorders”

  1. 1 B
    February 22, 2007 at 1:40 am

    Hee, it sounds like a good advice. Personally I love the scent of coffee but cannot bring myself to drink it as it was water. Too bitter. Or maybe I’m not adding enough amounts of sugar? ^^

  2. February 25, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Oh, but coffee with sugar is no coffee at all!^^

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