Avoid too much caffeine - it can trigger hallucinations

January 14th, 2009 - 2:56 pm ICT by IANS  

London, Jan 14 (IANS) Avoid too much of caffeine or you might end up hallucinating, hearing voices or seeing things that are not there, according to a new study.Those who consumed more than seven cups of instant coffee daily were thrice as likely to hear non existent voices, as compared with ‘low caffeine users’ who had less than a cup daily.

The findings are likely to 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 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 participants.

The researchers said 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, said the scientists.

Co-author Simon Jones, doctoral scholar 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.”

Co-author Charles Fernyhough, also from the same department, noted: “Our study shows an association between caffeine intake and hallucination-proneness in students”, according to a Durham release.

These findings were published in Personality and Individual Differences.

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