Most people enjoy a steaming, hot cup of coffee first thing in the morning or an occasional trip to Starbuck’s, but too much coffee may give you more than you bargained for. According to a study from England, drinking too much coffee could increase your risk of seeing and hearing things that aren’t there.
This study which was carried out at Durham University in England looked at two hundred students who had recently reported seeing or hearing things that weren’t there. The students were questioned about their caffeine consumption from all sources including coffee, tea, energy drinks, medications, and chocolate. They were surprised to find that those students who consumed higher levels of caffeine were three times more likely to experience visual or auditory hallucinations than those who avoided caffeine entirely.
How much coffee did it take to increase the risk of hallucinations in this study? It appeared that as little as seven cups of instant coffee or three cups of brewed coffee were enough to elevate the risk. The researchers were quick to emphasize that too much coffee may not have actually caused the hallucinations, just that there’s a correlation. It’s also possible that people who are prone to hallucinations are high consumers of caffeine as a way of coping with their mental disturbance.
Even if you don’t drink too much coffee, the researchers suggested that high levels of caffeine from other sources such as tea, if consumed in high enough quantity, may similarly increase the risk of visual and auditory hallucinations. Black tea has less than half the caffeine content of coffee and green tea even less making these drinks less likely to trigger hallucinations unless extremely high quantities are consumed. Energy drinks which can contain more caffeine than coffee and caffeine supplement pills could also be a problem.
Why might caffeine and too much coffee trigger such strange reactions? Caffeine is a stimulant which has a powerful affect on the nervous system, while at the same time triggering the body’s reaction to stress. This may cause release of certain stress hormones such as cortisol, responsible for the “fight or flight” response, which could play a role in triggering hallucinations. Some people may be unusually sensitive to the effects of caffeine and stress hormones which could increase their risk of experiencing hallucinations.
While it’s unlikely that this study will put Starbucks out of business, it should raise awareness of the potential effects of too much coffee or caffeine. If you want to play it safe, stick to decaf.