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Too Much Coffee Might Cause Hallucinations

January 14, 2009

People who consume too much coffee may start hallucinating, UK researchers have announced.

A Durham University team asked 200 students about their caffeine consumption habits. They reported their findings in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

People who knock back more than seven cups of coffee daily are three times more apt to have delusions than those who had only one.

The academics stated, however, the discoveries do not confirm a “causal link”.

They also emphasized that having hallucinations are not an explicit indication of mental illness, and that 3% of people normally hear voices.

“This is the first step toward looking at the wider factors associated with hallucinations,” said psychology PhD student Simon Jones, who headed the study.

He stated that prior research had implied that reasons like childhood trauma could spark the hallucinations.

When under pressure, the body gives off the hormone cortisol, which is formed in bigger quantities after taking caffeine. The additional cortisol could start the hallucinations. Consequently, James noted, it is logical to scrutinize the connection between caffeine and mood.

In addition to coffee, things like tea, chocolate, “pep” pills and energy drinks have caffeine in them.

After noting the students’ regular caffeine intake, the research team evaluated their vulnerability to hallucinatory incidents and stress.

Several of the students stated that they were having visual hallucinations, hearing voices, and feeling as if there were spirits in the room.

Still, James insists that further research is needed to identify the link.

“Stressed people may simply drink more caffeine,” James said. “Even if caffeine were responsible for hallucinations in some way, the part it plays would be small compared to other factors in life.”

Dr Euan Paul, of the British Coffee Association, noted that the findings only concentrated on those with a very large caffeine intake. He also said that nothing specific was documented of additional substances taken that could trigger hallucinations.

“There are literally thousands of well conducted published studies looking at all aspects of the coffee, caffeine and health debate and the overall conclusion clearly demonstrates that moderate caffeine intake, 400-500mg per day, is safe for the general population and may even confer health benefits,” Paul told BBC News.

New research has connected high caffeine consumption in pregnant women who miscarriage or produce a child with a low birth weight. Additional studies imply that it might aid in preventing skin cancer, decreasing nerve damage connected to multiple sclerosis, or start problems for those with diabetes.

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