September 22nd, 2010
03:31 PM ET

Can caffeine cause intoxication?

“Can too much caffeine make you insane – and mentally unstable enough to unknowingly kill someone?” This Just In blogger Mallory Simon of CNN.com, posed the question in her post about a buzzworthy murder defense.

A man’s defense attorneys are expected to make the claim that too much soda, caffeine-laced diet pills and the energy drink No Fear combined with sleep deprivation, resulted in a “temporary psychotic disorder" and so, the defendant Woody Will Smith couldn't be criminally responsible for the murder of his wife.

Amanda Hornsby-Smith was strangled with an extension cord in 2009.

Having too much caffeine can produce an effect known as caffeine intoxication, said Daniel P. Evatt, a research fellow in the department of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, who is not involved in the case.  Evatt researches the psychological effect of caffeine and spoke about this effect, but not as it relates to the criminal case.

“A lot of people use caffeine without any reported problems particularly when they’re using in moderate doses,” he said.

But if someone uses a lot of caffeine all at once, he or she could experience caffeine intoxication, which is included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders IV, which sets guidelines for psychiatric disorders.

Here's what DSM-IV says about caffeine intoxication:

-Recent consumption of caffeine, usually in excess of 250 milligrams (a 20-ounce bottle of Coke contains 57 milligrams)

-Demonstration of 5 or more of the following signs during or shortly after caffeine use: restlessness, nervousness, excitement, insomnia, flushed face, frequent urination, gastrointestinal disturbance, muscle twitching, rambling flow of thought and speech, tachycardia or cardiac arrhythmia, periods of inexhaustibility and psychomotor agitation.

-These symptoms cause significant distress or impairment, and are not caused by another mental disorder.

In rare circumstances, rambling thoughts or speech and hallucinations could occur to people who are already predisposed to it, Evatt said.

Some of the more severe symptoms of caffeine intoxication comes from having consumed about 800-1,000 milligrams of caffeine.  The tolerance to caffeine varies for individuals. While one person might suffer adverse reactions from too much caffeine from having just one energy drink another person may feel nothing from the same amount.

But caffeine intoxication is not usually severe enough to cause delusions or hinder decision-making capacity, Evatt said.

soundoff (782 Responses)
  1. Noble9

    My grandfather and his friend performed this experiment 90 years ago. The only adverse effect was that the friend had to be taken away on a stretcher. Caffeine makes you jittery - other behaviors come from yourself.

    September 22, 2010 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Ituri

    The simple answer? NO.

    I've come close to giving myself a heart attack on too much caffiene (induced by much lacking in necessary sleep, yet still trying to get through each day...), and nowhere involved did I start randomly doing things I didn't understand or couldn't control.

    This defense move better not work, or I swear, our justice system is entirely worthless...

    September 22, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Devin

      Caffeine is culturely accepted, over 200mg increases stillbirth rate by 50%. What happens to those children that survive that prebirth stimulant abuse? And FYI energy drinks already say, "not recomended for pregnant woman or those who are sensitive to caffeine. It's already there! Just to let you know it's not the justice system, it's the FDA that regulates.

      September 22, 2010 at 18:31 | Report abuse |
  3. Ken

    I od'd on caffeine as a young man. I had a Jolt cold (all the sugar and twice the caffeine!) and two caffeine pills while trying to stay awake for a mid-shift. I got jittery and naseous. My vision went a little gray. That was it. In no way did i want to wrap a phone cord around my co-worker's neck.

    September 22, 2010 at 17:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Allen

    I can say that I am a regular caffine consumer which usually comes from coffee for the last 10 years and so far, I have never experience this kind of mental disorder or headache.

    September 22, 2010 at 17:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Billy

    A single incident of over indulging on caffiene? I don't buy it!

    Now if the argument was serious lack of sleep after using very large amount of caffiene over a very long period of time, compounded by extremely high levels of dopamine causing the equivalent of 'stimulant psychosis', then I might buy it.

    Even though stimulant psychosis is very real, if I were on a jury the offender would still be doing 20 years. The last thing you want to do is give a green light for murder to every speed junkie out there.

    September 22, 2010 at 17:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Mary

    My husband has a huge cup of coffee every morning and his stress level rises quickly. He runs around frantically trying to get a few things done right before he has to leave for work. He's already stressed about work and I just have to stay out of his way. After he's had his coffee is the time when we are most likely to have an argument. But I can't fault him because I react the same way to coffee myself. On the days I drank coffee at work, I was more likely to have an argument with a co-worker. I think for certain people coffee can trigger emotions of anger, stress and/or make the person become more easily agitated. If this man knowingly consumed that much caffeine he's fully responsible for his actions either way. I don't believe over consumption of caffiene should get anyone off the hook for murder because while it can make a person angry or agitated, it doesn't turn off one's conscience. I believe he could have stopped himself from killing his wife but he chose not to.

    September 22, 2010 at 17:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Zutopia

    Ok, great. So that means if I eat too many hamburgers and become fat with health conditions, that gives me the right to sue the fast food industry due to my lack of accountability. Yet another lame example of a bogus lawsuit. It's all about the money.

    September 22, 2010 at 17:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • TO

      The defense has merit, in that caffeine in extreme doses can cause serious health problems. The jittery feeling after too many cups of coffee that many of us feel is only a symptom of a much larger change the body is going through in processing the caffeine. Not saying he should get away scott free – he murdered his wife. I am just saying to those of you who don't understand the effects of caffeine in excess on the human body, perhaps you should learn a little more about it before you make idiotic comments.

      September 23, 2010 at 11:02 | Report abuse |
    • rightorleft

      Sounds like many of us have experienced first hand what a lot of caffeine can do to us, and none of us have killed anyone.

      September 23, 2010 at 11:32 | Report abuse |
  8. Nick

    Ok Zutopia, where did that come from? That didn't even fit into anything. And of course not, if you eat alot of hamburgers and get fat, thats your own problem. I have no sympathy for you.

    As far as the caffeine, don't buy it. I have a type of job where sometimes I don't get alot of sleep. I have had little to no sleep for a couple days, hopped up on NODOZE, redbulls, Joltz, and all sorts of energy drinks, and have never blacked out or lost control of myself. Yes I can understand a sort of phsycosis, but there is no way that too much caffeine will make you loose control of your inhabitions, and unable to control yourself. Coffee, soda and sugar don't make you go into a garage, get an extension cord and go and strangle your wife. It doesn't happen. This guy is a d-bag who needs to be locked up for what he did. Lame exuse, and shame on him for trying.

    September 22, 2010 at 18:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Devin

    Caffeine is "still" a drug that our culture has accepted, despite it's toll on mental health in terms of sleep. It is not recommended for pregnant woman, that is stated on many energy drink products. Studies have proven over 200mg increases stillbirth rate by 50%. It's not safe for the mental health of the developing organism, that includes pregnancies or children under 5. Caffeine is a "social" drug in comparision to ritalin which is the type of drug to cause this episode long-term physosis. This guy probably had high blood pressure, or hypergylemia related triggered by his diet of both food and additives(b6, b12, ginsing, taurine) my friend stephen threw a pool ball so he says because of an energy drink while doing homework. i think this is a little bit of everything, including his temper, personality, and his diet.

    September 22, 2010 at 18:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Ticia

    Maybe there is something loose in the brain and along with the amount of caffeine consumed it became a dangerous weapon! Maybe he's one in a billion??! There's always got to be that one! (I still think it's a load of crap though)

    September 22, 2010 at 19:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. KC

    My employer brought in a Barista with a portable espresso/cappuccino machine in honor of myself and 2 other employees having served 20 years each with the company. I took this as a personal challenge to consumer all the cappuccino (provided free at the expense of my employer) I could drink in the course of about 3 hrs, which was 6 very large cappuccinos. I sort of regretted it as I was not too hungry for the ensuing restaurant lunch that was also provided for this occasion. I ate my lunch but had a fairly unpleasant caffeine buzz going on so did not have my usual gluttonous appetite and did not feel completely recovered for about a day or two. But I did not kill anyone.

    September 22, 2010 at 19:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Brandon

    Sorry this guy just needs to go to jail nice try though... I would be highly disappointed if he got off for a couple simple reasons what proof does this guy have of caffeine intoxication I mean did he have some sort of blood caffeine level drawn after this murder? We're just supposed to believe some murderer about not getting sleep and he's had too much caffeine? I could care less why you committed murder drugs or any other type of mental instability you still committed murder period! Do we really need more reasons than that to put this guy away?

    September 22, 2010 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. pod

    caffeine intoxication as a reason for killing one's spouse? yeah right. What a D-Bag. Get ready to grab the soap perky boy.

    September 22, 2010 at 21:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Caffeine Junkie

    I can remember an instance where I had doses a little bit too much caffeine whilst trying to make it on my 6th or so wind after being up for close to 60 hours where my brain went a little fuzzy... Can't say I felt an urge to murder anyone, just really appreciated being able to hit my rack (bed) once the buzz wore off.... Go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collect 200$

    September 22, 2010 at 21:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Ryan

    big deal, you can get intoxicated off of nutmeg

    September 22, 2010 at 22:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. docbutterfly

    Too much of anything can have adverse bodily reactions physically and mentally....so watch out.

    September 22, 2010 at 23:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. PNK

    KC, your post is cracking me up!!

    September 22, 2010 at 23:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Chris

    What now, prohibit caffeine? Similar propaganda was used against marijuana, and millions of arrests and a war on the people later and here we are.

    September 23, 2010 at 03:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. mercchrism

    who thought to use this alibi?very outside the box:)find a better lawyer coz this one must have drunk too much coffee.

    September 23, 2010 at 04:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. lloyd

    it's not the caffenie its the" diet" its toxic


    September 23, 2010 at 05:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Bill W

    Even if too much caffeine caused intoxication in someone, it is a useless defence to use in court to claim that it caused you to kill someone. Alcohol, which causes intoxication is not accepted as a defence for committing crimes, neither is too much sugar, lack of sleep.

    If these were legitimate defences half the women in the country would be over dosing on coffee and then killing their husbands or boyfriends.

    September 23, 2010 at 06:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. SAN


    September 23, 2010 at 07:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Dr Bill Toth

    For those who drink coffee and other energy drinks;

    "If there were a product out there that could give you the mental clarity, the energy and the sexual drive you had as a youth and the research was done at Stanford and Purdue; do you think there would be a market for it?"


    September 23, 2010 at 08:03 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Dru

    Even if caffiene caused these kinds of symptoms (which I don't believe), it doesn't excuse murder. How many people have gotten drunk, gotten into a bar fight, and killed someone? I guaruntee that drunk isn't getting out of the charges because he had too much alcohol. Any substance that alters your body chemistry has the potential to effect mood and behavior. That doesn't mean you're going to get a free pass on strangling your wife while in that altered mental state. Grow up, azccept responsibility, and enjoy life in your new home, with the bars and the concrete and the guards.

    September 23, 2010 at 08:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Compass

    Even if it were intoxication, that doesn't excuse murder. They definitely don't excuse it for drinking and driving...

    September 23, 2010 at 09:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Anna

    Caffeine by itself cause intoxication? No.
    Caffeine and among other "bad/dangerous" things? Probably.

    Caffeine doesn't affect your mind, just your heart – makes it beat faster. But if you add other things into the mix such as alcohol, lack of sleep, and/or stress, then yeah, it'll cause a chain-of-events leading to mental unstability. Who's to say that you're already mentally unstable and just don't know it? (joking)

    I'm not an expert, I rarely drink caffeine anymore, I just know common sense and personal experience.

    September 23, 2010 at 09:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. Amy

    If caffeine intoxication is legit (and I am HIGHLY suspect being that I constantly have tea or a Diet Coke in arm's reach and have never lost control of myself due to consuming too much), it sounds like it produces "symptoms" similar to that of Bipolar disorder. Where I live, bipolar does not serve as a defense to crime. Nice try there defense lawyers, but I think it's going to crash and burn.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Doris

    Many years ago I drank 10 cups a day and remember feeling a little paranoid, not crazy and not interested in injuring anyone. This reminds me of the "Twinkie defense" by Dan White who murdered Harvey Milk and the mayor of SF and got off, believe it or not. I now drink one to one and one-half cups a day, just enough for that little burst of energy in the a.m.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. Mary B

    If this was his only defense, I wouldn't buy if for a nano second.

    September 23, 2010 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Wet Wolf

    No but it can zap your adrenals.


    September 23, 2010 at 10:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. lk10034

    Excuses, excuses, excuses, and not a very good one at that. People will try and get you to buy into anything. This is hogwash.

    September 23, 2010 at 11:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Leah (TXanimal)

    A fitness/nutrition professional I know used to tell me: "Supplements don't cause bad behavior. If you were a jerk before you took the supplement, you'll be a jerk after taking the supplement."

    September 23, 2010 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. CoxPasta

    90% Of you are killing my retard buffers. Which stops me from wanting to slap you in the face and say "use your brain, if just for a moment. I know that's a tall order for the likes of you but for the common good of our species PLEASE try!"

    Why you ask? Becase none of you seem to have read the part that says "recent consumption of over 250mg of caffeine" that doesnt mean 3 days of sleep deprivation and having a drink when you start to feel tired every few hours. Want an example that may be easier to understand? Take those 3 days of sleep dep, coffee, energy drinks, and pills. Condense ALL that consumption into a period of 3 hours. Get back to me on how well you feel after that.

    This isn't just some crap about a guy who took a caffiene pill and a monster energy drink over the course of 6 hours and went crazy, that doesnt happen. Sure they did not mention just how long his sleep dep went on for but they did report he took soda, caffeine laced pills, and a NoFear energy drink all within a short time span.
    Lets have a little experiment shall we?
    lets say in the course of an 8 hour night you had.
    6 20oz cokes – 56*6 = 339mg
    4 caffeine 'stay awake' pills – 200mg*4 = 800mg
    2 SoBe NoFear – 174*2 = 348mg
    some basic arithmatic aaaand that amounts to 1487mg of caffeine. In 8 hours thats 185.875 mg per hour.
    I dare anyone who thinks this is crock to take a try at that consumption rate at half the time I used. Get back to me on how you feel.
    IDC about the whole killing issue, I care about all the people that don't think Caffeine can have adverse effects on your body, and your psyche.
    I don't beleive his defense but there isnt enough info for me to beleive the idea behind its utter crap either.

    September 23, 2010 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cophair

      CoxPasta – AMEN! Very good point!

      October 6, 2010 at 07:52 | Report abuse |
  34. Sue in Mass.

    I'm inclined to think the sleep deprivation is the better defense. Sleep deprivation has been shown in research to make people a little crazy, hasn't it? I have a foggy memory of this. The military determined that soldiers require at least four hours of sleep every 24 hours to enable them to continue to fight. If he was not used to prolonged sleep deprivation, or drinking 1,000 mg of caffeine in a few hours, I could see him being a bit paranoid and weird. But, agreed that driving out to kill your wife, and then doing that, seems a bit of a stretch to blame on caffeine. I'd go for it if it was a burst of homicidal rage that lasted five minutes, but to drive to her place means he had to be steady enough and plan to get there. Ruines the defense imho.
    One other note - I am much more inclined to be homicidal when I DON'T get coffee.

    September 23, 2010 at 12:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. Sue in Mass.

    Oh, if anyone wants to test the excess caffeine theory, I'd suggest double-brewed iced coffees, tall ones, as the fastest way to get tanked on caffeine. I though I was going to keel over or fly away after a couple of those one work day.

    September 23, 2010 at 12:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. Mido25

    Caffeine is known to be a drug. Caffeine is addictive that’s why there are some coffee drinkers that once they try to quiet they get headaches. My dad and I can relate. I tend to have my coffee bold and black without sugar, and the days after if I don’t take my coffee fix I get the worst headaches that anyone can ever have. Perhaps the caffeine of soda does not feel addictive, but the caffeine in bold black coffee is very addictive. Coffee seems to have quite the effect as it keeps you up and the lack of it after thus after results in a negative effect on the mind and thought.

    September 23, 2010 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Sue in Mass.

    Mido25 - I had the mother of all headaches when I tried to quite caffeine. I was nauseated, with a pounding head, curled up in bed trying to stay alive. My husband convinced me to just drink some coffee because I think he thought I might die from the experience. Coffee is super addictive, at least to some people.

    September 23, 2010 at 16:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. me

    caffeine can be found in mega-doses in the majority of people who committed murders in the 20th century. caffeine from coffee, especially low-quality like folgers, makes people crazy. but the industry is so big, it has the power to hide the fact that what it offers people dehydrates you, causes dangerous blood-pressure changes, and gives you high blood pressure later in life- to name a few.

    May 27, 2012 at 03:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Jonathan K.

    I'm not sure where a lot of these people are getting some of these facts. There are a lot of bad raps about caffeine, but in moderate amounts it's never been proved fatal or harmful in my opinion. I definitely think you should be careful with how you consume caffeine, its not good to be addicted or dependent but I disagree with anyone who would say its a harmful drug. IT CAN BE, if you allow it to be. Anyways, I personally use caffeine on a daily basis. I especially enjoy energy shot products, like Eternal Energy Shot and sometimes Stacker. I feel great using them, and I have never had any negative side effects. But everyone's different.

    September 24, 2012 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
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