Caffeine and Stress Can Cause Hallucinations

Recently, it has been shown that caffeine increases the incidence of hallucinations. This study was conducted to determine the influence of caffeine levels and stress on inducing hallucinations, very specifically, auditory hallucination. Ninety-two adults participated in this study, in which they were told to listen to a random noise; they were later asked if they had heard a song, although it never was played. It was seen that people with higher caffeine intake and stress levels reported hearing the non-existent song more often.

Caffeine has a multi-modal effect on the body and is not limited to stimulating the central nervous system. Excess caffeine could increase the occurrence of certain types of cancer, osteoporosis and pregnancy-related issues. In one study, it was found that more than 50 percent of people under severe stress tended to increase their consumption of caffeine. Caffeine consumption was higher in schizophrenic patients than in those with depression. It is possible that high levels of caffeine induce a psychosis-like state. Stress also could play a role in the worsening of schizophrenic symptoms such as hallucinations. This study was done to analyze the compounding effects of caffeine and stress on the mental status of the participants.

* The study population consisted of 92 healthy people with no previous incidence of auditory hallucination or mental disturbances.
* Each participant was asked to complete a questionnaire to analyze the stress levels they experience and the amount of caffeine that they usually consumed. Based on the assessment, they were categorized into four groups.
* The participants were instructed to listen to a random noise; they were also told that the song “White Christmas” would be heard momentarily. They had to push a button when they heard the song.

* There were 35 people in the low caffeine/low stress group, 14 in the high caffeine/low stress group, and 27 in the low caffeine/high stress group. Sixteen participants reported both high caffeine intake and high stress levels.
* Those with higher caffeine intake and high stress reported having heard the song more frequently. Thus, they gave more false alarms during the listening. Gender did not correlate with likelihood of false alarms.
* There was a correlation with the higher age of the participant and the stress level and the reporting of hearing the song.

Shortcomings/Next steps
Factors such as age, sex, weight, habituation, liver function, smoking and the use of oral contraceptives could influence the effects of caffeine. However, none of these was considered in this study. The participants in the high caffeine group were more than those in the low caffeine group. The authors say that the total number of participants in the study was not adequate. They suggest future research that will take into account all these factors.

The study concludes that those consuming more caffeine and subjected to higher levels of stress are more likely to experience false perceptions. These findings are supportive of one of the theories of the development of schizophrenia, which states that stress plays an important role. This study is unique, since it links caffeine intake, stress and auditory hallucinations. More studies ought to be done on this relationship, exploring the role of other factors affecting caffeine intake and including a larger study group. However, it is more than “apparent that the health risks of excessive caffeine use must be addressed and caution should be raised with regards to the exacerbating use of this stimulant.”

For More Information:
The Effect of Caffeine and Stress on Auditory Hallucinations in a Non-Clinical Sample
Publication Journal: Personality and Individual Differences, January 2011
By S F Crowe; J Barot; La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia

*FYI Living Lab Reports Are Summaries of the Original Research.


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