Hearing things lately? Depending on how great an adventurer you are, what I am about to tell you will either be viewed as gravely disturbing or delightful, in a twisted sort of way. Recent studies have found that people with high stress who drink three or more cups of coffee per day are more likely to hallucinate; those who drink five or more cups per day may begin hearing voices and seeing things that aren’t there. According to one study, high-strung, high-stress coffee addicts were more likely than their less-than-three-a-day peers to “see things that were not there, hear voices, and sense the presence of dead people”1.
Researchers at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia confirmed prior studies linking coffee to hallucinations after testing ninety-two individuals. Each study participant was given varying amounts of coffee, placed in a room with white noise — and only white noise — and asked to press a buzzer each time they heard a strand of music from the song White Christmas. They found that five six-ounce cups and a little stress were all one needed to start buzzing. The more coffee consumed and higher stress experienced by the participant, the more frequently they hit the buzzer. These findings support a 2009 study conducted by Durham University, which found that high caffeine intake facilitated or caused non-serious hallucinations. While researchers failed to define non-serious, they did state that any caffeine-induced hallucinations that impair daily functioning could be referred to as psychotic. Bet you are rethinking that sixth cup right now.
No one is entirely sure why the combination of high stress and high caffeine intake increases one’s likelihood of hallucinating but most researchers believe it has to do with caffeine’s ability to increase our focus coupled with the body’s natural reaction to stress. The 2009 study also made very clear that these caffeine-sponsored hallucinations are not a sign of mental illness, stating that “most people will have had brief experiences of hearing voices when there is no one there”1. Additional studies have also found that one cup of coffee can actually help reduce the sensation of stress by facilitating an increase of dopamine to the prefrontal cortex of the brain and blocking the sleep-inducing adenosine receptors.
While we would normally recommend you drink responsibility, regular readers of this blog know that coffee lovers have a history of rebellion. So, this Halloween season, if you are feeling the need for a little supernatural excitement, we suggest you brew a pot of your favorite coffee and visit a haunted house or troll around the local cemetery. For those of you who prefer not to engage with voices, visions, and the dead, we advise you to restrict your daily coffee intake to three cups. On a personal note (always fun to see who really reads these), friends who have tolerated my inane fear of ghosts for decades and repeated “did you say something?”, now we know the truth. You may not have sensed the ghost or heard the random noise but I, on my caffeine high, most certainly did.