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Too Much Caffeine Might Lead to Hallucinations

From Durham University:

High caffeine consumption could be linked to a greater tendency to hallucinate, a new research study suggests.

with a higher caffeine intake, from sources such as coffee, tea and
caffeinated energy drinks, are more likely to report hallucinatory
experiences such as hearing voices and seeing things that are not
there, according to the Durham University study.

caffeine users' – those who consumed more than the equivalent of seven
cups of instant coffee a day - were three times more likely to have
heard a person's voice when there was no one there compared with 'low
caffeine users' who consumed less than the equivalent of one cup of
instant coffee a day.

The researchers say the findings will
contribute to the beginnings of a better understanding of the effect of
nutrition on hallucinations. Changes in food and drink consumption,
including caffeine intake, could place people in a better position to
cope with hallucinations or possibly impact on how frequently they
occur, say the scientists.

In the study, funded by the
Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council,
200 students were asked about their typical intake of caffeine
containing products, such as coffee, tea and energy drinks as well as
chocolate bars and caffeine tablets. Their proneness to hallucinatory
experiences, and their stress levels, were also assessed. Seeing things
that were not there, hearing voices, and sensing the presence of dead
people were amongst the experiences reported by some of the

The researchers, whose paper is published in the academic journal Personality and Individual Differences,
say their finding could be down to the fact that caffeine has been
found to exacerbate the physiological effects of stress. When under
stress, the body releases a stress hormone called cortisol. More of
this stress hormone is released in response to stress when people have
recently had caffeine. It is this extra boost of cortisol which may
link caffeine intake with an increased tendency to hallucinate, say the

Lead author, Simon Jones, a PhD student at Durham
University's Psychology Department, said: "This is a first step towards
looking at the wider factors associated with hallucinations. Previous
research has highlighted a number of important factors, such as
childhood trauma, which may lead to clinically relevant hallucinations.
Many such factors are thought to be linked to hallucinations in part
because of their impact on the body's reaction to stress. Given the
link between food and mood, and particularly between caffeine and the
body's response to stress, it seems sensible to examine what a
nutritional perspective may add."

Co–author Dr Charles
Fernyhough, also from Durham University's Psychology Department, noted
"Our study shows an association between caffeine intake and
hallucination-proneness in students. However, one interpretation may be
that those students who were more prone to hallucinations used caffeine
to help cope with their experiences. More work is needed to establish
whether caffeine consumption, and nutrition in general, has an impact
on those kinds of hallucination that cause distress."

Mr Jones
added: "Hallucinations are not necessarily a sign of mental illness.
Most people will have had brief experiences of hearing voices when
there is no one there, and around three per cent of people regularly
hear such voices. Many of these people cope well with this and live
normal lives. There are, however, a number of organisations, such as
the Hearing Voices Network, who can offer support and advice to those
distressed by these experiences."

Click here to view the study.

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