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I haven’t started seeing dead people…yet. Although, a study published last week in Personality and Individual Differences reveals I should…

By Kerry Blackadar , in Blogoscopy: Student health in focus , on January 23, 2009 Tags: , , , , , , ,

I haven’t started seeing dead people…yet. Although, a study published last week in Personality and Individual Differences reveals I should be a candidate.

Researchers at Durham University monitored caffeine consumption of 200 students and found that those who consume the equivalent of seven cups of instant coffee a day were three times more likely to hallucinate than those who consumed the equivalent of only one cup.

You may be thinking – who drinks seven cups of coffee a day? I do. I am addicted to coffee. On any typical day, I drink a pot of coffee in the morning and follow it up by a mid-day triple-shot Americano. Coffee is undoubtedly one of the most popular drinks across our nation. Statistics Canada ranks coffee as the third most-commonly consumed beverage for women ages 19 to 30. For men in this age range, it is soft drinks. And, for people over 50, coffee ranks only second to water as the most consumed beverage.

Even for those who don’t drink coffee – you may think you have your caffeine consumption under control. You gloat about how ‘you’re not addicted’ or that you choose tea because ‘it’s better for you.’ But the list of foods and beverages that contain caffeine continues to grow, which means it’s not just coffee drinkers who are at risk for hearing voices.

Health Canada recommends that adults consume a maximum 400mg of caffeine a day. Here’s a look at the caffeine levels in some popular beverages and foods:

one cup (237ml) of brewed coffee

approximately 135mg

one cup of instant coffee


one cup of an ‘average’ blend of tea


one cup of green tea


one can (355ml) of regular pop


one can (355ml) of diet pop


one ounce (28g) of milk chocolate



In October, 2008 Time examined the trend among American companies to add “extreme amounts of caffeine” in an increasing number of products, including some brands of oatmeal, potato chips, jelly beans, and toiletries. The website for Sturm Foods, which makes Morning Spark Natural Energy instant oatmeal, says the breakfast food contains “about as much caffeine as a cup of coffee.” What defines a cup is left up to consumers (who can choose from Tall, Grande, and Venti) to decide.

When considering the amount of caffeine that is safe for you to ingest, it is important to consider your weight and height. What may be safe for one, may not be for another. offers individuals a spot to test how much of their favourite caffeinated beverage they can consume before it kills them. The site is run by ‘hobbyists’ and self-proclaimed ‘caffeine fiends,’ so you may want to be a little cautious. If they tell you that drinking 76 cups of coffee will kill you, maybe try cutting back after 25. 

Despite the negative implications of too much coffee (known as caffeine intoxication), there has been growing research that indicates drinking coffee has a number of health benefits. For example, the prevention of oral cancers, Alzheimer’s disease among the middle-aged, protection against heart disease, and the reduction in the risk of liver cancer have all been associated with coffee consumption.

The recent findings from Durham University that indicate coffee consumption may cause hallucinations is still speculative. Simon Jones and Charles Fernyhough, the lead researchers of the study, state that the hallucinations may be due to the fact that a larger amount of cortisol (a stress hormone) is released when people ingest caffeine. In other words, only individuals under a great deal of stress (also more likely to consume caffeine at greater levels) may be at an increased risk of experiencing hallucinations from drinking a lot of coffee.

Until there is more research on this, I plan to continue drinking coffee. Without it, I would be a lot less productive, and probably wouldn’t have picked up on the error on B.B.C.’s website that explores the very study that has been the focus of this blog. You’ll note, at the beginning of the article, the writer refers to the lead researcher by his correct name: Simon Jones. But, by mid-way through, he is referred to as Mr. James. Maybe if the writer and editors had been drinking more coffee they would have picked up on this.


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