Coffee: The new hallucinogenic craze?

A new Australian study says that a serious coffee habit can make people see and hear imaginary things (involving Bing Crosby). Time to put down the java?

Coffee addicts beware
(Image credit: Illustration Works/Corbis)

People guzzle coffee as if it's just another beverage, but the ostensibly safe comfort drink is laced with a "psychoactive drug": caffeine. In fact, stressed-out people who drink five cups or more a day are vulnerable to hallucinations, says researcher Simon Crow of Australia's La Trobe University. Crow's team found, for instance, that highly caffeinated people were three times more likely than a control group to erroneously hear Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" in white noise. They're also "more likely to notice things that aren't there, see things that aren't there." Will such findings scare people away from java... or make them drink more?

Bring on the buzz: "Hours of hallucinogenic fun" sounds like a "bonus side effect" to me, says Margaret Hartmann at Jezebel. And here I thought coffee "couldn't get any better!" Still, the study involved only 92 subjects — a very small sample — and used a questionable methodology, so maybe the real lesson is that "if you're hopped up on Starbucks, just ignore any scientists trying to screw with you."

"Coffee's bonus side effect: Hours of hallucinogenic fun"

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I want to wake up, not trip out: This could be for real, says Jamie Feldmar at Gothamist. A larger 2009 study also found that "people riding high on three cups of coffee were three times more likely to see or hear things that aren't there." That's some pretty "freaky-sounding stuff." Tripping on espresso might be "kind of a neat party trick," but this study is bad news "for everyday drinkers who don't want to be That Scary Guy on the train."

"Whoa: Coffee may cause auditory hallucinations, says science"

Enough with the coffee studies: Doesn't it feel like we've been here before? asks Adrian Chen at Defamer. Every few minutes, there's a new study "about coffee being good or bad for you, giving you a heart attack or sharpening your concentration." Honestly, I'm not sure what to make of this one. Hearing "the baleful moan of an ancient forest sprite" while you're "trippin' on the sweet black stuff" might make it hard to concentrate, but it would "really wake you up, too!"

"Coffee might make you hear things"

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