Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Coffee: Drug, Medicine or Sacrament?

Coffee: Drug, Medicine or Sacrament?: It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity. ~ David Barry




Coffee is a drug, we know that. Some of us in fact revel in its addictive properties, as it comes with a certain -- albeit a tad bit pathological -- industriousness. After all, is there anyone more disciplined/obsessed than a coffee drinker -- at least, that is, when it comes to acquiring and drinking coffee? You can set your clocks with exactitude to the performance of their daily coffee-associated machinations -- they themselves often setting their coffee makers to clocks, so as not to delay or miss an opportunity to imbibe. The type of sober religiosity required to turn drinking a beverage into a ritual is known only by a few Zen tea drinkers and quite possibly billions of habitual coffee drinkers.




Let us also not forget that one of the first documented uses of coffee over 500 years ago was in the Sufi monasteries of Yemen where coffee was known as qahhwat al-bun, or, the 'wine of the bean,' the phrase which provided the etymological origin of the word coffee. Once lauded as a "miracle drug" and used as a sacrament in late-night rituals to invoke the sensation of God within revelers, still today, coffee drinkers are known to cast themselves into bouts of coffee-drinking induced reverie and enthusiasm (literally: en "in" + theos "god" or "god-filled") by drinking this strangely intoxicating, and yet somehow still sobering concoction.





It is interesting that even addictions can be viewed as a form of ritual -- albeit degenerated ones (i.e. less regenerative than truly sacred ones), performed with less consciousness than would be expected of a holy, whole-making act. But that cup of Joe gets us up in the morning to perform our secular duties, which says a lot considering what many of us are forced or coerced to do for a living.




While many attribute coffee's vice-like hold on their physiology to its caffeine content, there is much more going on than a fixation on a stimulant. Its been known for ove a quarter of a century that coffee contains a compound with powerful opiate-like properties called exorphins which is found within both caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee forms. The average cup of coffee contains five times the amount needed for what is known as the half maximal effective concentration (ED50), which is a measure of a drug's potency indicating a response halfway between the baseline and maximum.


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