Lara DR. (2010) J Alzheimers Dis. 20 Suppl 1 S239-48
Caffeine intake is so common that its pharmacological effects on the mind are undervalued. Since it is so readily available, individuals can adjust their own dose, time of administration and dose intervals of caffeine, according to the perceived benefits and side effects of each dose.
This review focuses on human studies of caffeine in subjects with and without psychiatric disorders. Besides the possibility of mild drug dependence, caffeine may bring benefits that contribute to its widespread use. These benefits seem to be related to adaptation of mental energy to the context by increasing alertness, attention, and cognitive function (more evident in longer or more difficult tasks or situations of low arousal) and by elevating mood. Accordingly, moderate caffeine intake (< 6 cups/day) has been associated with less depressive symptoms, fewer cognitive failures, and lower risk of suicide. However, its putative therapeutic effects on depression and ADHD have been insufficiently studied. Conversely, in rare cases high doses of caffeine can induce psychotic and manic symptoms, and more commonly, anxiety. Patients with panic disorder and performance social anxiety disorder seem to be particularly sensitive to the anxiogenic effects of caffeine, whereas preliminary data suggests that it may be effective for some patients with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). The threshold for the anxiogenic effect of caffeine is influenced by a polymorphism of the A2A receptor.
In summary, caffeine can be regarded as a pharmacological tool to increase energy and effortful behavior in daily activities. More populational (cross-sectional and prospective) and experimental studies are necessary to establish the role of caffeine intake in psychiatric disorders, especially its putative efficacy on depressive mood and cognitive/attentional disorders.