Drink Too Much Caffeine and You May Start to Hear Things

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Stressful situations are known to contribute to and trigger psychotic states which can include hallucinations. Hallucinations, defined as a sensory perception in the absence of external stimuli, can occur in any of the five senses, including hearing or auditory hallucinations. A recent study from Australia has found that high levels of caffeine consumption can further contribute to hearing things that aren’t really there.

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Simon Crowe, a professor of La Trobe University’s School of Psychological Sciences, and a team of researchers subjected 92 individuals to either a low stress or high stress situation. This was coupled with a low or high caffeine intake. Heavy coffee consumption was defined as being five cups or more per day. All participants listened to white noise and were asked to report each time they heard the song “White Christmas” by Bing Crosby being played.

Those participants who were placed in the high stress situation, as well as those who consumed the highest amounts of caffeine, were more likely to report hearing the song – although the song was never actually played.

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Crowe notes that caffeine is “the most commonly used psychoactive drug” and that the combination of caffeine and stress can lead to psychosis and “hallucination proneness.” Schizophrenia, he points out, is a mental disorder that commonly manifests as auditory hallucinations, and a breakdown of thought processes and emotional responsiveness brought on by stress can occur in anyone to some degree.

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"High caffeine levels in association with high levels of stressful life events interacted to produce higher levels of 'hallucination' in non-clinical participants, (an) indication that further caution needs to be exercised with the use of this overtly 'safe' drug," Crowe concludes.

Journal Reference:
"The effect of caffeine and stress on auditory hallucinations in a non-clinical sample" S.F. Crowe, J. Barot, S. Caldow, J. D'Aspromonte, J. Dell'Orso, A. Di Clemente, K. Hanson, M. Kellett, S. Makhlota, B. McIvor, L. McKenzie, R. Norman, A. Thiru, M. Twyerould, S. Sapega
Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 50, Issue 5, April 2011, Pages 626-630

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