Psychology/Psychiatry

Watch Out for the Brown Coffee, Man

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Coffee can cause hallucinations—if you drop LSD in it. Otherwise, not so much. Several British news outlets are reporting, based on a study conducted by researchers at Durham University, that you just might start tripping—"seeing things" (Daily Mail), "sens[ing] dead people" (Daily Express), "hear[ing] voices" (Daily Mirror), experiencing "visions" and "seeing ghosts" (BBC News)—if you go one cup over the line.

Alas, there is little basis for this claim in the study itself, which found that self-reported caffeine intake was correlated with scores on the Launay-Slade Hallucination Scale (LSHS), a 16-item questionnaire that is supposed to measure people's propensity to hallucinate. The scale, which includes questions about vivid daydreaming, "intrusive thoughts," and hypnagogic images, does not indicate whether subjects actually have experienced waking hallucinations. The researchers called the relationship between caffeine consumption and LSHS scores "weak" and noted that it does not prove caffeine raises the likelihood of hallucinations. People prone to hallucinations might consume more caffeine as a way of coping, or the two measures might both be related to some third factor.

Despite press reports that "drinking just three cups of brewed coffee a day can triple the chances of suffering from hallucinations" (Daily Telegraph) and that "the equivalent of just seven cups of instant coffee a day is enough to trigger [a] freaky hallucinogenic effect" (Daily Express), Britain's National Health Services says coffee drinkers should not be alarmed (or excited):

For every milligram increase in daily caffeine intake per kilogram of bodyweight (equivalent to an extra 1.5 cups of instant coffee for an 11-stone person), there was only an increase of 0.18 on the hallucination score (this score can range from 0 to 64, with a higher score indicating greater level of hallucinations). It is unclear how an increase this small would affect an individual's experiences.

Disappointed? Think how I feel: I spent $31 to read the full study.

NEXT: Scion of Frankenstein

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  1. Coffee can cause hallucinations-if you drop LSD in it.

    ROFL
    Thanks Jake, best laugh I had all week.

  2. Jacob–and I am only saying that because I care–there’re a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing.

  3. You’re disappointed? I just blew a line of folgers!

  4. Finally the MSM is giving BigCoffee what it deserves.

    American coffee corporations oppress workers.

  5. Oh, *now* you tell me . . . you should have told me that *before* I went to Starbucks. At first I thought I was experiencing the symptoms of a first-class drug trip: heart palpitations, the entire room spinning . . . imagine my disappointment when I realized I was simply reacting to the excessive prices.

    Bummer.

  6. The giant meerkat that lives behind the water heater tells me that this study is a bunch of bullshit.

  7. Starbucks is a capitalist conspiracy.

  8. drinking just three cups of brewed coffee a day can triple the chances of suffering from hallucinations

    Given how the real world is going these days, I’m not sure it’s right to call it suffering.

  9. It seems plausible that increased brain activity may cause increased hallucinations. Excessive coffee and or other stimulants can trigger seizures in some individuals. Temporal lobe epilepsy in particular can cause exactly the type of hallucinations and sensations described.

  10. Several British news outlets are reporting

    Confirmation bias much? Everyone knows the British media is in the sachet of Big Teabag.

  11. The title made me lol.

    As did the rest of this post.

  12. Let’s leave Andrew Sullivan out of this, SugarFree.

  13. Anything that can explain libertarians’ halucination that you make sense would be welcome. What do you market fundamentalists drink?

  14. If excessive coffee consumption caused hallucinations, I would be seeing strange shit in my cube by 9AM every morning. I practically have a java IV set up in here.

  15. Good one, joe. I love an alley oop.

  16. Big Teabag

    Mac: You put your balls in my mouth while I was sleeping?

    Dennis: Yeah, man. Twice.

    Mac: That’s rape! That is borderline rape!

    What do you market fundamentalists drink?

    Your tears.

  17. I prefer golden showers.

  18. Male lactation

    Extreme stress combined with demanding physical activity and a shortage of food has also been known to cause male lactation. The phenomenon occurred in survivors of the liberated Nazi concentration camps after World War II. Some American POWs returning from the Korean and Vietnam Wars also experienced male lactation

  19. We market fundamentalists drink iguana pee because it’s rich in anti-oxidants.

  20. “drinking just three cups of brewed coffee a day can triple the chances of suffering from hallucinations”

    And the risk of a average person hallucinating is what exactly? This is one of those statistics that multiplies a trivial risk. For example, if the risk of hallucinating on any given day is one in 100,000. Then tripling that risk would raise it to 3 in 100,000 or ~1 in 33,3333. This intentional ignoring of absolute risk is standard in these scare stories.

    Caffeine does present cognitive effects of a more subtle type. People under the influence of caffeine perceive that they produce higher quality work when objectively the quality of their work decreases. All stimulants create this effect and the really strong ones create outright mania.

    That being said I will and have killed for a cup of coffee.

  21. Anecdotally: An ex-girlfriend of mine in college once started hallucinating after taking a couple of OTC stay-awake caffeine pills. Of course, she had a really low tolerance for drugs in general. And the hallucinations could just as easily have been the result of the lack of sleep that was the reason for taking the caffeine pills in the first place.

  22. RE: iguana pee

    Good one, lefiti. I wish I’d come up with it myself.

  23. Don’t worry, JLM, you will.

  24. Viral Advertising by Colombia

  25. Sleep deprivation and excessive coffee intake can produce certain hallucinatory effects.

    Maybe not full-blown visual hallucinations, but that kind of “What are those people down the hall whispering about?” auditory grey-area brain-overdrive hallucinations. The kind where one starts stringing snatches of sound together and assembling them into words or sentances. Coffee + no sleep = paranoia.

  26. These Brit “journalists” have a career waiting for them on this side of the pond reporting on drug use for major American weeklies.

  27. Hallucinations. So *that’s* how I make through the morning. I wondered.

    I better go get some more hallucinations going. I have work to do.

  28. As someone who used to have sleep apnea, I can attest that the sleep deprivation alone will give you the weird brain activity. The coffee consumption isn’t required.

  29. Shannon Love —

    It’s much higher than you think.

    From Wiki:
    Studies have shown that hallucinatory experiences take place worldwide. One study from as early as 1894[2] reported that approximately 10% of the population experienced hallucinations. A 1996-1999 survey of over 13,000 people[3] reported a much higher figure, with almost 39% of people reporting hallucinatory experiences, 27% of which were daytime hallucinations, mostly outside the context of illness or drug use. From this survey, olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) hallucinations seem the most common in the general population.

  30. This is your brain on coffee. Any questions?

  31. From this survey, olfactory (smell) and gustatory (taste) hallucinations seem the most common in the general population.

    I have no idea what an olfactory or gustatory hallucination would really consist of, or how anyone could confirm that it was, in fact, a hallucination, and not the perception of an actual smell or taste that was not shared by anyone else.

  32. I have no idea what an olfactory or gustatory hallucination would really consist of, or how anyone could confirm that it was, in fact, a hallucination, and not the perception of an actual smell or taste that was not shared by anyone else.

    Coming down once off a long night of drinking beer and dropping acid, everything I ate tasted like iodine. And everything smelled like burning electrical insulation. I can only assume the orange juice and bacon didn’t really have that taste, otherwise someone else in the mess hall would have complained.

    All in all, it was a shitty breakfast.

  33. there’re a lot of decaffeinated brands on the market that are just as tasty as the real thing.

    Blasphemer!

    Mind you, I’m drinking a lot more decaf now in hopes of keeping my blood pressure low enough that my doctor doesn’t put me on pill.

    Hit and Run doesn’t help, but…I can give it up any time I want. Yeah.

  34. Well, if the terrible taste of orange juice shortly after you brush your teeth counts as a gustatory hallucination, I guess we’ve all had them.

  35. ?Time to go to work, work all night
    Search for underpants, hey!
    We won’t stop until we have underpants
    Yum tum yummy tum day!?

  36. When I was a teen there was a widepspread and credible rumor you could make an orange peel hallucinogenic by letting it sit out for months.

    We didn’t have Google back then, of course.

  37. uh, I don’t ever remember “suffering” from hallucinations!

  38. I doubt whether acid would survive in coffee for long.

  39. I have no idea what an olfactory or gustatory hallucination would really consist of, or how anyone could confirm that it was, in fact, a hallucination, and not the perception of an actual smell or taste that was not shared by anyone else.

    On Feb. 11, 1937, while playing the piano with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, George Gershwin lost consciousness, skipped a few bars, then continued as if nothing had happened. During the blackout he had the curious sensation of smelling burning rubber. Two months later he had the same experience. While working on his fourth film, The Goldwyn Follies, he became listless, confused, and irritable. In June, 1937, violent headaches and dizzy spells became a daily occurrence. The last week in June, he underwent a series of tests but refused to submit to a spinal tap, so the tests were inconclusive. On the morning of July 9, he could play the piano, but at five that afternoon he fell into a stuporous sleep which deepened into coma. Neurosurgeons removed a brain tumor, but he died several hours later without regaining consciousness.

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