Caffeine-Crazed Killer

Today Woody Will Smith of Dayton, Kentucky, goes on trial for strangling his wife to death with an electrical cord last year. His defense: The caffeine made him do it. MSNBC reports that Smith "was drinking five or six soft drinks and energy drinks a day, along with taking diet pills; it all added up to more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day." That's equivalent to about four cups of coffee per day, which I used to consume on a regular basis when I worked in an office. For the record, I never murdered anyone. Until now I did not realize how close I came.

Judging from the comments of a psychologist hired by the defense, Smith's argument is that he suffered a temporary psychosis caused by sleep deprivation. According to MSNBC, Smith told the psychologist that in the weeks preceding the murder he "hadn't been sleeping, in part out of fear his wife would take their two children and leave him." So even if you accept that Smith's judgment was impaired by lack of sleep, it's not clear the caffeine was the cause. Assuming it was one of the things that kept him up at night, he chose to consume it, so he is responsible for its contribution to his insomnia. And not to put too fine of a point on it, but insomniacs typically do not kill their wives.

I suspect the notion of a caffeine-crazed killer will strike most people as risible, since caffeine is a very familiar drug—the most popular psychoactive drug on the planet, in fact. Yes, too much can make you jumpy and keep you up when you want to sleep. But drive you to murder your wife? You've got to be kidding.

People are much more credulous about such tales when they involve less familiar drugs such as crack, PCP, or methamphetamine. As I show in my book Saying Yes, claims that such drugs turn people into killers, like similar stories that were told about marijuana in the 1920s and '30s, have little basis in fact. But my favorite example is qat, since this stimulant shrub has for centuries served a function similar to coffee in places such Somalia, Ethiopia, and Yemen. This long history of socially integrated use did not prevent outlets such as The New York Times, The New Republic, and The Washington Times from running stories in the early 1990s implying that qat chewing played a significant role in Somalia's civil war. If the country's feuding gunmen had been drinking coffee instead of chewing qat, editors at these publications probably would have been a bit more skeptical of such claims.

More on qat here and here.

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  • D.A. Ridgely||

    And not to put too fine of a point on it, but insomniacs typically do not kill their wives.

    At least not in their sleep.

  • Ellie||

    His defense: The caffeine made him do it.

    Joke that's doubtless been made a million times before: this would be the "Jessie Spano defense"?

    DAR: Hee!

  • ||

    I'm so excited... I'm so excited... I'm so excited... I'm so... SCARED! ::cries::

  • Mo||

    I'm totally stealing that!

  • ||

    There is only one defence that is undeniable and irrefutable: too many twinkies with his coffee (and by twinkies I mean the delicious creme filled, and by cream filled I mean the pastry treat containing a concocktion composed of sugar and cow's milk, , and not effeminate young men of gay disposition...not that there is anything wrong with that)

  • ||

    containing a concocktion


    not effeminate young men of gay disposition


    Curious...

  • BakedPenguin||

    Timon - Got Milk?

  • ||

    Hel-loooo!

  • Ray Pew||

    400mg of caffeine?!?!?! What a puss. I easily do 600-800mg a day and still pass out.

  • ||

    Yeah, I do about 500mg per day.

  • ||

    In Triathlete magazine, there was an article from world-class coaches that explained caffeine doses of 500-1000 mg daily in world class athletes aided in training and racing because it enhanced alertness and increased metabolic rates. Since reading that a year or so ago, I've started taking it during my training and have had noticeably lower PR's at every level I race, and have also moved up to running half-Ironman races this year. And yes, I attribute a lot of the difference to the caffeine.

  • ||

    Yeah, the benefits of stimulants of all kinds in physical activity are pretty well-documented. Baseball was saturated with amphetamines for decades -- and now that they test for greenies, it seems like every time the camera pans past the dugout you see one or two guys pounding Red Bulls or Monsters.

  • ||

    I'm already on my second Rockstar, and I'm feeling pretty fucked up. Maybe this guy was on to something.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Red Balls! Cocaine in a can, baby!

  • JD||

    400mg is an amateur dose. There's that much caffeine in a big cup of Starbuck's coffee.

  • Ayn R. Key||

    Yeah. After years of effort, I'm DOWN to only 6-8 cups of coffee per day. My peak? Over 30 easy.

  • ||

    Woody Will Smith

    Hilarious. This guy fits the profile for white trash serial killer:

    (1) Three-part name. Check.
    (2) Skeezy facial hair. Check.

    That's equivalent to about four cups of coffee per day,

    Jeebus. I drink that much before I leave for work. I tend to be more homicidal when I don't have my morning dose.

  • stuartl||

    The real reason SWAT teams bust through the door at 3 AM is for the lineup pictures. Anybody that looks like that is guilty of something.

  • ||

    You sure that's not a picture of the arresting officer? Hard to tell the difference anymore.

  • ||

    Everyone knows that paranoid sleep-derivation jags to keep your wife from leaving you should be meth-fueled.

    This guy's such an amateur, I bet he doesn't even think he has bugs burrowing under his skin.

  • ||

    don't joke about that, after being awake for 40 hours those bugs are pretty damn real. though, the real fun is when the shadow people come out.

  • ||

    All you have to do is turn off all the lights in the house. No lights, no shadows. [skritch, skritch, skritch] OR IT'S ALL SHADOWS!

  • T||

    There's a reason I have all these halogen work lights around. The shadow people hate those.

  • ||

    Waffles you don't play Starcraft 2 do you by any chance? I just got my but kicked by a guy of the same name.

    Oh and the shadow people are trouble for sure.

  • BakedPenguin||

    See, that's why opiates are so much better than speed. The itching is so much fun...

  • ||

    The itching means it's working. I welcome it.

  • JD||

    I doubt he is unfamiliar with meth--he is from Kentucky.

  • ||

    Does anyone expect this trial to last into tomorrow? Or past lunch even?

    How is there even a defense at all? Sounds like the guy has confessed to strangling his wife, so, ummm, yeah, that's murder. Or is it ok to kill people who stress you out now?

    Also, telling someone "You're driving me crazy" does not qualify as actual mental disorder.

  • Tman||

    Defendant:"YOUR HONOR, SHE TRIED TO SERVE ME DECAF!!!!!I HAD TO KILL HER!!!"

    Judge:"Well, bitch had it coming I suppose....."

  • Warty||

    Is that a man or a giraffe?

  • ||

    No, he is DEVO.

  • Warty||

    STOP READING MY MIND

  • Warty||

    "Play 'Whip It'!"

    "No. Play the other one."

  • ||

    Mongoloid?

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Freedom of Choice.

  • Warty||

    You're both wrong. It was Beautiful World.

  • ||

    So truck drivers can commit murder at will, with no consequences? Good thing to know.

  • gaius marius||

    enough to get me to stop exercizing my libertarian right to ignore all traffic regulation. maybe the libertarians were right after all -- arming everyone to the teeth and hepping them up on psychoactives will create so fearful a society that we all spontaneously be nice to one another.

  • ||

    Libertarianism: Why the Fuck Not?

  • Naga Sadow||

    No.

    LIBERTARIANISM: ARE YOU READY TO UNLEASH THE FUCKING FURY?!?!?!

  • gaius marius||

    hey, secretly, don't we all hate civilization? hah? don't we? c'mon, you know we do.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Depends on whether the apocalypse hits. I'll stay a cheerleader for civilization till then. Otherwise . . . I turn warlord.

  • ||

    Everybody expects to be a post-apocalyptic warlord, but, sadly, the truth is that most people who survive will merely be minions to someone like Humongous.

  • Mad Max||

    Do I at least get a cool minion uniform?

  • Ellie||

    Or is it ok to kill people who stress you out now?

    Boy, I hope so, or else my choke-people-through-the-Intertubes PC peripheral prototype is dead in the water.

  • Ellie||

    (It's only for PC because Mac fanboys are so irritating they'd end up choking themselves. Hey-o!)

  • David Carradine||

    That's a feature not a bug.

  • ||

    Hey-o! Autoerotic asphyxiation burn for the win.

  • BakedPenguin||

    I like your ideas and would like to subscribe to your stock offering.

  • ||

    How much do we wanna bet that the lesson from this for some politician or another will be that caffeinated drinks need to be regulated, and of course heavily taxed by government, to prevent others from murdering? For our own collective good, of course..

  • ||

    Maybe not yet. Now, if he'd have choked one of teh childruns, we'd be looking at some serious business.

  • ||

    Dammit. Never say things like this. They're listening.

    Oh, I know it sounds crazy, and paranoid, but surely you can remember some of the ridiculous ideas that people said they'd do if they could ban cigarettes from certain places? Remember people saying they'd try banning them in homes and try blanket bans? Remember people saying first cigarettes, then food? Had any transfats lately? Using too much salt, Citizen? Think about lightbulbs--hell, look at your toilets. Who would've thought something like that could go through--and now they're after showers.

    They're listening.

  • VikingMoose||

    I'd guess that his uncle and auntie in Bel-Air won't be too thrilled to have him move in...

  • ||

    You go to jail to learn, it's not a fashion show.

  • Pip||

    Didn't work for Mike Tyson.

  • cynical||

    Juries just don't understand.

  • ||

    Perhaps he read the murder statute like liberals read the Constitution. Subject to change according to one's needs or circumstances.

  • Mango Punch||

    +1

  • Naga Sadow||

    You mean like democrats and republicans?

  • ||

    MSNBC reports that Smith "was drinking five or six soft drinks and energy drinks a day, along with taking diet pills; it all added up to more than 400 milligrams of caffeine a day." That's equivalent to about four cups of coffee per day, which I used to consume on a regular basis when I worked in an office.

    That wouldn't have been enough to get through a mid-watch in CIC.

    Homeless people get more caffeine* than that at the soup kitchen.

    * Another exception to the cursed i before e rule.

  • Ayn_Randian||

    Hey, it does say "except after 'c'"...

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    Although I believe the rule does mean "immediately" after C, technically, you are correct.

  • Mango Punch||

    Qat is a great scrabble word.

    Has anyone here chewed qat? Does it just keep you up or does it have other effects too? Where in NYC can you find some?

  • ||

    Qat is a great scrabble word.

    It counts as english? Can I use makizushi next time I play?

  • BakedPenguin||

  • Mango Punch||

    Not sure about 'makizushi', but 'Qat' is in The Official Scrabble Dictionary and is a great way to get rid of a 'Q' if you're lacking in 'U's.

  • T||

    You can use qi, too, when you want to use that Q tile and have no U.

  • ||

    Is qunt a word?

  • Jason||

    It has a U, so it's not very useful in getting rid of a Q.

  • ||

    Oh, right. Make it qoont.

  • Ayn_Randian||

    How about "quatloo"?

  • ||

    There's a very large Somali community in my city. Whenever I ask the Somali cab drivers about qat --so I can give it a try!- they ALWAYS claim they don't know what I'm talkin' about!

  • ||

    "Has anyone here chewed qat? Does it just keep you up or does it have other effects too?"

    It gets your tounge. Other than that, I don't know...

  • ||

    isn't it usually spelled khat?

  • BakedPenguin||

    Qat, khat, or cat, B Kliban was a good cartoonist.

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    I don't know, but I do know it's usually spelled tongue.

  • ||

    My latent dyslexia got me again. We really need an "edit post" feature if my spelling will be judged.

  • ||

    I need some QAT up in this piece! Anyone ever see the stuff stateside? I don't think they let it throught customs.

  • JD||

    One of its active ingredients, cathinone, is prohibited (DEA schedule I) in the US.

    I don't know if customs lets it slide like they do with coca tea.

  • Inappropriate Frat Boy Humor||

    I haven't chewed qat, but I've eaten pussy! Bada-bing!!

  • VikingMoose||

    +1 Mr. McCracken. +1

  • thoreau||

    As somebody who recently went from being a habitual user of caffeine to an occasional social user, I'm regretting that I gave up a great excuse for misconduct.

    Also, Viking Moose wins the thread.

  • BakedPenguin||

    In addition to Mr. Sullum's Saying Yes, I'd like to rec From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs by Andrew Weil.

  • ||

    That is a great book.

  • Warty||

    That dude has the perfect self-help beard.

  • ||

    Much better than Terrance McKenna's... even when McKenna was alive.

  • ||

    Maybe if he'd killed her with a Melitta filter I could believe it.

    I think if I was on the jury I'd vote "guilty as charged." Sorry dude.

  • VikingMoose||

    baked - I'm gonna make like you never mentioned that quack's name.

    in fact, I'm gonna have to find Crane and take it out on him. Really teach him a lesson and give him something to think about!

  • BakedPenguin||

    Moose, I'm not endorsing his other new-age stuff. But if someone's right about something, they're right, regardless of how wrong they are on other issues. Tom Tancredo and Ralph Nader are against the War on Drugs. They are right about that, regardless of their other political positions.

  • BakedPenguin||

    But that also doesn't mean you shouldn't take it out on Crane.

  • VikingMoose||

    just keep going. you're only making it worse for him!!!

    [fades away with evil laughter]

  • highnumber||

    VM,
    Have you heard about Dr Asa? He's great! Even better than Dr Oz!!

  • BakedPenguin||

    highnumber, you seem stressed out. Let me give you the number of my homeopathic healer...

  • highnumber||

    My chiro tells me my alignment is way off. I don't believe him though cuz my reiki advisor says my aura is indicating a problem with a past life.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Have you checked the feng shui at your place? That can totally fuck up your chakras.

  • highnumber||

    Feng shui is a bunch of malarkey. I know because my priest told me.

  • Plebe||

    Is that like the Wizard of Ass?

  • Spencer Smith||

    I'm surprised it's not attributed directly to 5 hour energy in an attempt to federally regulate the energy drink market.

  • Shannon Love||

    There is an actual condition called caffeine psychosis that kicks in at around IIRC 1000mg for people without tolerance and 2000mg for people with high tolerance. It's difficult to consume that much because caffeine has a feedback regulation mechanism of irritating the stomach and raising heart rate. If you consume to much caffeine you heart starts hammering, your ears ring and you start puking. The physical effect usually start way before the psychosis.

    The problem with all drugs in not that they drive people to be aggressive but rather that they engender paranoia. Paranoia seems to be the brain's default failsafe state when something impairs it. Strokes, senility, concussive damage etc can all trigger paranoia. Overuse of recreational drugs can do the same thing.

    Even high levels of THC can cause paranoia, although because THC seems to cause a blanking in the perception of other people, individual with THC induced paranoia usually believe that something inanimate is threatening them e.g. they've been accidentally poisoned, there is electricity in the floorboards etc. (This results in many humorous 911 calls.)

    Methamphetamine class drugs enhance an individuals sense of their status and dominance over others. When they develop paranoiac delusions, the delusions focus on people. However, the drugs do not affect an individual's empathy so it is unlikely that someone not prone to violence will attack even in grips of a deep paranoia. However, for those already prone to violence, the paranoia can trigger an attack because the target is perceived as a dire threat.

    Drug induced paranoia usually plays a role in crimes that are (1) overkill and (2) incredibly stupid e.g. spraying a group of people walking out of a courthouse just to get one person.

    Any one who does not believe that rec drugs can cause people to do stupid, irrational things has (1) never done drugs themselves and (2) never observed long term those who do.

    If you've been around the block a couple of times you now what the irresponsible use of drugs can do to people and there is sense pretending otherwise.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Any one who does not believe that rec drugs can cause people to do stupid, irrational things has (1) never done drugs themselves and (2) never observed long term those who do.

    Yes, but unless those people were forced to take the drugs, they remain responsible for the actions they take while on them.

  • T||

    So, are the "stupid, irrational things" any worse than the stupid, irrational things human beings do while completely sober? If not, I'm pretty sure I don't care.

  • Shannon Love||

    Agreed, you know in ancient Roman law, committing a crime while intoxicated was considered an aggravating factor instead of an diminishing one. People who committed crimes while drunk were punished more harshly.

    If we had that standard today, people might be more willing to support the end of drug prohibition.

  • ||

    cause people to do stupid, irrational

    Cause? No. Create conditions where one might otherwise not make the same choices? Yes. Assume responsibility in lieu of self? Absolutely not.

  • Shannon Love||

    Agreed.

  • ||

    I have to wonder whether you are a brilliant caricature of a conservative sometimes, but your absolute lack of a sense of humor makes that impossible.

  • Hugh Akston||

    Lunatic commitment to the character is what makes great parody, Epi. The lack of humor is the defining characteristic of social conservatives.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Come back, Neil. We miss you...

  • Shannon Love||

    I am not a conservative. There is little I wish to conserve. I am just interested in the modality of change. I want it to be voluntary, diffused and individualistic instead of coerced, concentrated and elitist.

    To quote Glenn Reynolds: "I dream of a world in which happily married gay couples keep closets of assault rifles." To which I would add, "and get high on the weekends if they want."

    However, that doesn't translate into screwing my eyes shut about the dangers of rec drugs, especially given my education as a biologist. The dangers poised by rec drugs are very real. People take them to generate emotional hallucinations. Since emotion drive our decisions, drugs that create emotions disconnected from physical reality cause bad decisions.

    The argument against drug prohibition isn't that drugs are harmless as unicorns, its that it is not within either the governments responsibility nor its capability to protect us from temptation.

  • ||

    Re-read the article, and substitute alcohol for caffeine. Alcohol can certainly impair your judgement and lead you to do things you wouldn't otherwise do, including violent acts. It doesn't, however, create a legal excuse for what you do.

    Does someone who drives drunk and kills someone have less responsibility than someone who drive sober and kills someone? I don't think even a lawyer would have the balls to argue that.

  • Shannon Love||

    Agreed

    I wasn't arguing about the lack of culpability. I was arguing against the last paragraph which said that more powerful drugs don't alter behavior either.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    Mostly I've seen them lie, steal, and cheat people in order to support their illegal drug usage.

    What's the solution for that?

    spraying a group of people walking out of a courthouse just to get one person.

    Why was the alcoholic at the courthouse shooting people, anyway? Was he facing a ten year sentence for possession with intent to distribute, because he was caught with a fifth of vodka?

  • Shannon Love||

    There is no solution. Even when all drugs are legal, heavy drug use will so debilitate some people that they will turn to crime. We will just trade the problems we have now for a more diffuse problem of a hopefully lesser magnitude.

    Why was the alcoholic at the courthouse shooting people, anyway?

    It was meth and he believed someone being released was going to kill him. Happened back in the 90s in IIRC Kentucky. A famous case of drug induces psychosis and paranoia.

  • ||

    Shorter version: voodoo pharmacology omgz!!1!

  • ||

    A chick in college couldn't drink caffeine cuz she would "do crazy things".

  • Cyto||

    Ooh, I saw that movie! I think it starred Bruce Willis...

  • Stalker||

    "If you consume to much caffeine you heart starts hammering, your ears ring and you start puking. The physical effect usually start way before the psychosis."

    That's exactly my reacton to women.

  • Shannon Love||

    In reading these comments it seems a lot of people somehow think that I was (1) supporting the idea that the guy at the top of parent committed the crime because of caffeine and (2) that I supported drug prohibition.

    I was doing neither.

    What I was arguing against is this stupid idea of downplaying to zero the dangers of rec drugs. It is counterfactual, dangerous and counter-productive. It make libertarians sound like a "Dave's not here, man" caricature who think hemp can save the world. It does nothing to convince people sitting on the fence over ending drug prohibition that we've thought seriously about the issue.

    There are no easy answers. Rec drugs do poise significant hazards to individuals and communities but It seems that some people are so eager for a legal high they will accept any an all arguments that favor legalization even to the point of claiming that someone on at the end of a three day meth binge makes just as good decisions as they did when they started.

    There are plenty of hun stories about drugs to be sure but we don't advance our arguments for personal choice and personal responsibility by going to the opposite extreme.

  • cynical||

    True enough. "Lesser evil" is more defensible intellectual territory at any rate.

  • ||

    I can't speak for anyone else, but I'm much more likely to murder someone when I don't get my coffee than when I do.

  • Attorney||

  • Barely Suppressed Rage||

    A case that is not quite as famous, although it resulted in a federal law regarding college campus safety, was the murder of Jeanne Anne Clery at Lehigh University by Josoph Henry in 1986. I was a sophomore at Lehigh at the time and remember the whole thing quite clearly - it caused a huge stir for several reasons, including the fact that it was the first murder in the university's history.

    As I recall, he tried to claim at his trial that he had some kind of genetic, psychological reaction to alcohol. He was drunk when he murder the girl.

    His defense did not work, and to my knowledge, he's still sitting on death row to this day.

  • Jason||

    If the country's feuding gunmen had been drinking coffee instead of chewing qat, editors at these publications probably would have been a bit more skeptical of such claims.

    Maybe the Republicans can blame the Iraq war on coffee...

  • ||

    Naked Coffee Guy could not be reached for comment.

  • T||

    What about Too Much Coffee Man? Did anybody try to get a quote from him?

  • Paul||

    did not prevent outlets such as The New York Times, The New Republic, and The Washington Times from running stories in the early 1990s implying that qat chewing played a significant role in Somalia's civil war.

    Qat (or Khat) is illegal in the US.

    Just sayin'

  • ||

    Sayin' what, exactly? Seriously, I'm asking.

  • Paul||

    Apologies. It's just my little ongoing tally of all the substances that are wrapped up in the drug war.

  • ||

    Hah yeah OK -- the wording almost made me think that you were supporting the early 90's media hysteria by pointing out the fact that Khat is federally scheduled.

  • Paul||

    think that you were supporting the early 90's media hysteria by pointing out the fact that Khat is federally scheduled.

    No, not at all. It's my little way of reminding the people fighting a pitch battle on Hamburger Hill over light, technical reductions and relaxations of marijuana statutes vis-a-vis medicalization that there's a HUGE growing list of shit most people have probably never heard of that remains illegal.

  • ||

    Yeah good call. Although said battle is certainly worthwhile.

  • Naga Sadow||

    Naked coffee guy?

  • Naga Sadow||

    NNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!

    I take it back! No links plz!

  • EscapedWestOfTheBigMuddy||

    Caption:

    Hold your head high to prevent unsightly double chins.
  • ||

    I drink shitloads of Mt. Dew AND I VOTE!

  • Rrabbit||

    If drug X made him do it, he should be charged extra because he himself is responsible for taking drug X.

    Guilty. Next, please.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Well, from his picture, he doesn't look like he's strung out of caffeine any more, so he must have kicked the habit. They should let him go.

  • Vagabonde||

    Be wary- In that cafe around you – could you, as you’re reading this, be surrounded by potentially psychotic ‘caffeine killers?’

    http://scallywagandvagabond.co.....iet-pills/

  • Jennifer||

    For what it's worth, my dad is currently working in Yemen and the workers there chew qat in the afternoons, and are useless for working afterwards. It seems to act more like pot than a stimulant, from his descriptions.

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