Random AsidesScience

Caffeine: Hallucinogen of Choice

As Amanda pointed out in the Quickies this morning, caffeine apparently induces hallucinations.

Damn, is there anything caffeine can’t do?

When it’s in coffee form, its aroma wakes us gently each morning, like an attentive lover — a lover that smells like a robust French blend. It urges us out each day into the elements with a warmth in our bellies that, as it fades, insists we renew it at the ceaseless fountains found in the ubiquitous corner shops. It sharpens our minds, so we can curse the other sorry bastards on the freeways and subways with clarity and aplomb and a level of aggression that is slightly above comfortable for any social situation. It quietly and humbly readies us to begin working at jobs we don’t want to do. In energy drink form, it raises our blood pressure to the point where we can feel that life-affirming pounding in our temples. It provides us a means by which we are able to paint the house, do the taxes, and install a sprinkler system at the city park all at the same time, without even caring that our hearts are in danger of exploding like an over-filled water balloon.

And now, we discover it also induces hallucinations!!

That is not just awesome. That is extra-strength awesome. Caffeine truly is a wonder drug.

No more will we be forced to ingest a tiny piece of paper that has been soaked in chemicals to experience visions and to open our minds to alternative realities. No more will we find a need to gobble up earthy bits of fungus that grow on cow shit to warp the ordinary into something extraordinary. All we need to do to escape the confines of mundane, everyday life is ride upon the gossamer wings of caffeine. A mere pot and a half of coffee or half a case of soda can take us to worlds beyond this one. It can open the doors to Xanadu and usher us in on a cloud where we are met by wonderful music and voices and multiple personalities.

Oh, the possibilities.

But as exciting as this news about caffeine is, I’m a little worried about the long-term effects. I’m scared things may go bad, as they often do when we discover something that helps us escape so easily.

I mean, I currently mainline my morning coffee. I just shoot it right into my vein. And I worry that as I crave the visions and hallucinations more and more, I won’t be able to keep things in check. Someday you’ll see me strung out in an alley somewhere, and I’ll say something like: “Hey, nice lady? Hey, come on. Don’t run away. Help a brotha out. You got any Colombian, Brazilian, anything. I’ll even take Folger’s, if you got it. How ’bout a Pepsi? You gotta Pepsi? Come on, man. I’m hurtin’.”

Because, you know, that’s how it starts. One day you’re sipping a cappuccino, talking to a miniature version of Abe Lincoln in a bikini, the next you’re under a freeway overpass strung out on Red Bull and Mountain Dew, looking to score a can of the fabled Jolt Cola so you can return to the battle against the Jewish Leprechauns and scary circus clowns that have captured Princess Clitoris and the golden stallions of Chocolate Valley.

Sam Ogden

Sam Ogden is a writer, beach bum, and songwriter living in Houston, Texas, but he may be found scratching himself at many points across the globe. Follow him on Twitter @SamOgden

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  1. Not to be contrary, but the article clearly states “the Durham University researchers acknowledge that their study of 219 coeds doesn’t prove that caffeine, a stimulant in coffee, actually caused them to hallucinate.”

  2. I remember one late night in the lab suddenly having a vivid hallucination of polar bears down a hallway, which went away rather briskly (though my heart rate did not). I’ve always chalked it up to sleep deprivation, but the healthy doses of caffeine and theophylline probably contributed…

  3. I used to take caffeine pills before I knew I was anemic to give myself a little boost. It took me three or four times to realize that yes they were actually making me see things. The last time I took one was at a Bob Dylan concert…it was interesting to say the least.

  4. Am I the only skeptic in the world who doesn’t enjoy any caffeinated drinks? It’s not even about the fact that it’s a powerful chemical stimulant, I just think coffee and soda are blehhhhhhhh.

  5. Sam Sam the skeptical romantic waxing all poetic about chemical stimulants.

    Hey, hey, psssst, over here. I got some unlicensed primo espresso machines in my trunk……, over here, just around the corner. It’s OK maaaan, I’m not gonna hurt ya. But you suuure look like you could use a shot or two, and I got the goods man!

  6. Thanks to this post, suggestibility, and because I freakin’ can, I’m going to take this energy drink I’ve got next to me, and add a couple shots of espresso. I’m not even joking.

    We should hold a skepchick get together on top of the candy mountain with the the six wheeled moose and antlered salmon that just coast down the coffee river that flows up hill.

    I wonder if there’s a way to inject some serious caffeine in to a buzzed aldrin?

  7. Mmmmm….good coffee….Coffee is my friend!
    I’m an addict. I admit it. I don’t want to be cured, either. ;-)

    I became addicted during flight training. The airline industry runs on rumors, jet fuel and coffee. And money – LOTS of money. Never approach an airline counter or gate before the staff has had their first cup of coffee. Your bags may end up in Ouagadougou.

    Bad coffee is an abomination, however. Vending machine coffee should be against the Geneva Conventions!

  8. @Sam: Even more important to remember is NEVER to piss off the agents at the counter before they have had their first cup of coffee. Your luggage will probably become part of the rings of Saturn… ;-)

  9. A bit late but today Ben Goldacre’s gone over the reporting of these results, both in the media and by the researchers themselves.

    “that 7 cups of coffee a day is associated with a three times higher prevalence of hallucinations… seems to be an ad hoc analysis done afterwards by the researchers, and put into the press release, so you cannot tell you how they did it, or whether they controlled appropriately for problems in the data, like something called “multiple comparisons“.


  10. This is unsurprising, as caffeine’s effects are essentially similar to those of amphetamines (including with respect to ADHD), and “amphetamine psychosis” is a well-known result of long-term use.

  11. For a skeptic blog, this post doesn’t seem very skeptical. In fact, it’s regarding something with only vague pointers that it may be true as absolute truth.
    I, for one, think that’s a bit absurd and shameful to be among actually skeptical posts.

  12. @DoubleFelix: I think this post was meant in a light-hearted way…At least, the voices I’m hearing after my 6th cup of coffee are telling me so… :-D

  13. Blah, now that I re-read that comment, I realize that that makes me sound like a total dick.
    Move along then, nothing to see here any more.

  14. Though to be 100% honest, all the responses but Sam’s were appropriately lighthearted and communicated the message… Sam’s put me off a tad. :(

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