Caffeine is a drug which acts as a stimulant upon the central nervous system. It’s found naturally in plants, such as coffee beans, tea leaves, and kola nuts.

Caffeine pills are supplements made from caffeine. Some caffeine pills contain natural caffeine, extracted during the brewing process. Others contain synthetic, or artificial, caffeine.

Caffeine pills aren’t the same thing as pure caffeine powder. This is a loose substance sold in bulk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed pure caffeine powder as potentially dangerous.

When taken as directed, caffeine pills conveniently provide the benefits of caffeine. They’re safe for most people to take, but can be harmful if taken in high doses. Certain people may also need to watch and limit their caffeine intake. These include:

Caffeine pills average between 100 and 200 milligrams of caffeine per serving. This is the same as an average cup of brewed coffee.

A serving can consist of one or more pills, based on package directions. Some caffeine pills are time released. Others impact upon your central nervous system all at once. It’s important to read and follow the package directions so you don’t accidentally exceed the recommended daily dosage. If used incorrectly, it’s possible to overdose on caffeine pills.

Caffeine consumption of up to 400 milligrams daily is considered safe for most people. Keep in mind that this amount represents your entire caffeine intake for the day. Beverages other than coffee and some foods can add to your daily caffeine intake. These include:

  • energy drinks
  • tea
  • hot chocolate
  • cola
  • protein bars
  • chocolate bars

Some medications and supplements include caffeine as an ingredient. Make sure to check labels on items you ingest regularly.

The caffeine jolt provided by coffee has fueled many predawn mornings and all-night working sessions since it was first brought to U.S. shores in the mid-1600s. There are many reasons why some people prefer their daily cup of joe to caffeine pills, and just as many other reasons for taking pills as an alternative. For example:

  • Some people simply don’t like the taste of coffee, unless it’s filled with tons of sugar and fat from added cream. This may make caffeine pills preferable by providing an energy boost without adding calories.
  • Coffee is acidic and can be irritating to the gastrointestinal tract. This may give you heartburn, especially if you drink it black. Caffeine pills eliminate the acid, but caffeine itself may still increase reflux symptoms in some people.
  • Coffee contains many components in addition to caffeine. These include coffee oils, such as cafestol and kahweol. These may raise cholesterol levels in some people. The effects may be more pronounced in individuals who drink large amounts of unfiltered coffee, such as boiled brews or espresso. Caffeine pills don’t contain coffee oils, and don’t appear to have this same effect.
  • Caffeine is a diuretic. Both coffee and caffeine pills may increase urine output. However, some people may need to use the bathroom more frequently if they drink fluids containing caffeine. This may make pills a better choice for those in certain professions, such as long-haul truckers, train conductors, and bus drivers.
  • It can be easier to overdo it with caffeine pills than it is to drink cup after cup of coffee. This may lead more easily to a caffeine overdose.

Whether you choose your caffeine in a cup or pill form, it’s important to remember that it’s a drug and should be used in moderation.

Caffeine may reduce your risk of certain diseases and cancers, but it’s not clear if this is due in part to the antioxidants found in coffee.

The central nervous system, including the brain, feels the impact of caffeine shortly after consumption. This provides temporary benefits, such as:

Caffeine in moderation can provide benefits. But if you overdo it, the reverse can become true. Too much caffeine can overstimulate, or irritate, your system. Side effects and risks of taking too much caffeine include:

  • headache
  • acid reflux and gastric distress
  • diarrhea
  • reduction in calcium absorption, causing weakened bones
  • rapid heartbeat
  • high blood pressure
  • dizziness
  • insomnia
  • irritability
  • muscle tremors, or jitters
  • pregnancy loss
  • reduced fertility in men and women

If you take too much caffeine, an overdose can occur. Extremely high, toxic doses — such as those associated with caffeine powder — may be fatal. Other serious side effects associated with toxic caffeine overdose include:

  • rapid, erratic heartbeat
  • seizures
  • vomiting
  • disorientation
  • stupor

Milder cases of caffeine overdose aren’t typically fatal. Mild caffeine overdose symptoms include:

  • nervousness
  • inability to sit still
  • high levels of thirst
  • tremors, or feeling jittery
  • irritability
  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • headache
  • wakefulness

When used correctly, caffeine pills can help you stay awake, remain alert, and provide increased energy. It’s important to use caffeine pills according to the package directions and not overdo it. Caffeine is a drug, which is best used in moderation.