New research indicates that caffeine may act as a hallucinogenic drug

Coffee: a treat in moderation, a hallucinogenic drug in excess

Coffee can be a treat in moderation, or a potential hallucinogenic drug in excess

Sarah Beth Costello
March 2, 2009

Her brow was wet with beads of perspiration.

Her hands were shaking so badly she could barely hold the coffee pot. Leaning against the counter, it took everything in Jasmine Willis’s being to keep from passing out. She felt her forehead – warm, very warm. The shakes were growing stronger, her body was beginning to sweat and Willis began hyperventilating uncontrollably.

Willis’s symptoms are similar to the symptoms expected after a drug overdose. But Willis, a teenager from Stanley, England, wasn’t high on drugs. Surprisingly, she had overdosed on double-shot espresso and was experiencing the repercussions.

As tempting as it is to reach for an extremely caffeinated beverage after a long night of studying, you may want to think twice before rebooting your body with a temporary solution. Recent studies indicate that heavy caffeine intake is highly dangerous could potentially result in hallucinations and delusions.


While caffeine often increases alertness, brightens moods and even acts as a painkiller, the downsides to caffeine are disturbing. Caffeine acts as a drug in the body that increases energy by increasing the heart rate and blood pressure. Too much caffeine could result in a visit to the emergency room.

An estimated 90 percent of adult Americans seek some form of caffeine on a daily basis.

Live Science and Science Daily recently published a new study in January about the potential hallucinogenic side effects from too much caffeine intake. According to the study, hallucinations can occur after the ingestion of the equivalent of three cups of coffee (this can include energy drinks, tea, chocolate, pills etc.). This may seem like a lot of coffee, but according to the Coffee Business Statistic Report, the majority of Americans drink an average of three cups of coffee each day.

The study was sponsored and funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the Medical Research Council. Two hundredcaffeine_graphic1 college students were tested according to regular caffeine intake, their “propensity to have hallucinatory experiences” and were assessed according to stress levels.

Researchers discovered that those who daily drank at least three cups of freshly brewed coffee were more likely to encounter hallucinations than those who drank half a cup of brewed coffee. Many participants in the study claimed to hear voices and, on occasion, experience visions of hallucinations. Some even “sensed” the presence of the dead people.


Why such intense reactions? The researchers at Durham University concluded that caffeine actually increases stress levels. The stress hormone, cortisol, is naturally released when the body is under stress. The intake of caffeine increases the release of hormones, which can temporarily impact the physiology of the body.

There are always potential outliers in a study. A childhood trauma or personal habits can effect one’s reaction to caffeine and hallucinations. The leader of the study, Simon Jones, and the other researchers concentrated the study on a healthy population under the assumption that “healthy” individuals are not as likely to normally hallucinate.

Most coffee drinkers do not regularly experience hallucinations or “visions” of nonexistent images. Despite the hallucinogenic reactions, it is important to know what you are putting into your body.

Though caffeine is not completely bad for the body, it is a drug that can cause harm. Studies suggest moderation is the key in order to prevent serious side effects and even death.

1 comment
  1. Janna said:

    I enjoyed seeing this in The Pendulum, too, but your layout is superior by far to what I saw when I saw this online there. It may have been updated since then…

    Hmmm hallucinations from caffeine. That could explain a lot of my behavior!

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