We all get a little irritable after one too many cups of coffee, but a Kentucky man is claiming that too much caffeine actually caused him to unknowingly strangle his spouse.
Charged with murdering his wife, Amanda, in May of 2009, Woody Will Smith, 33, is claiming at his trial that he ingested so much caffeine – in the form of soft drinks, energy drinks and diet pills -- that it rendered him temporarily insane.
Could consuming too much caffeine make a person lose touch with reality and send them into a murderous rage?
“If you’re an individual who has an underlying abnormality -- bipolar disorder or manic depressive illness or paranoid schizophrenia – caffeine could precipitate a manic episode,” says Dr. Alan Hirsch, neurologist and psychiatrist and founder of the Smell & Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. “But that’s if you already have one of those disorders.”
A combination of caffeine-laden sodas and drinks and diet pills, though, might make a “normal” person manic, he says.
“Amphetamines alone can induce psychosis,” he says. “If he were taking a prescription such as Ritalin or a street drug like speed, those alone could induce mania in somebody who’s normal. Add caffeine to it and it would help precipitate that.”
But just because a person is manic – or temporarily psychotic – doesn’t mean they’ll become violent, he quickly adds.
“The big jump is not that that you can cause someone to be psychotic, it’s that most people who are psychotic or manic don’t kill anyone,” he says. “An act of murder would be extraordinarily unusual for an individual who’s transiently psychotic.”
Rather than precipitating a murderous rage, Hirsch says a caffeine overdose would most likely cause an individual to have increased heart rate, increased sweating, shakiness, headache, abdominal pain, rapid speech, and disjointed thoughts.
“They’d have fluctuations of emotions from high to low and would be irritable and angry and feeling pressure, but they wouldn’t be murderous,” he says, comparing the “caffeine intoxication” defense to the so-called Twinkie defense.
“Murder would be very, very unlikely,” he says. “Caffeine is the number one drug in the U.S. If caffeine insanity led you to be murderous, you’d find dead bodies at Starbucks. You’d be seeing murders all over the place.”
How about you guys? Are you crazier after too much caffeine -- or not enough?