Is 'Caffeine Insanity' a Real Condition?

Remember the Twinkie defense? Now there's a new dietary defense being used in criminal cases: The caffeine made me do it. The most recent example is a Kentucky man, Woody Will Smith. The 33-year-old, who is accused of strangling and killing his wife, is blaming excessive caffeine from the sodas, energy drinks and diet pills he was consuming at the time. Smith has said these products left him so mentally unstable he couldn't have knowingly killed his wife. So can we expect more 'caffeine insanity' murder cases soon? Possibly and here's why...

Temporary insanity as a legal defense is a claim that the defendant was truly unable to know right from wrong at the time of the crime because a mental disorder effecting their capacity to understand any reality relating to the crime was present. Most often it is the case of someone with psychosis (a loss of contact with reality) due to a psychiatric diagnosis such a schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or acute drug intoxication. A number of drugs can cause psychosis, such as cocaine or heroin and, in high doses, amphetamines. Amphetamines are a kind of stimulant.

The most commonly used stimulant is caffeine. Generally it is a mild stimulant found in beverages (like coffee) and chocolate. But caffeine can cause anxiety in some people, particularly if it is being consumed in higher doses for long intervals. And contrary to popular belief, there is actually a condition called caffeine intoxication, which can occur when people consume more than 300mg of caffeine in one sitting (this amount is equal to about three large cups of coffee). Symptoms include agitation, rapid heart beat, rapid speech and overall jitteriness. More severe symptoms such as loss of judgment, disorientation and psychosis can also occur.

While caffeine intoxication is extremely rare, it's the explanation this legal defense team is going to try to prove. Though it is theoretically possible for a person to take in enough of a stimulant to become temporarily psychotic and therefore do something that they would never have done when in their right mind, one would need to show more than just the commission of this one act. There would need to be some background--a prolonged or defined pattern of irrational, bizarre, disoriented behavior with evidence of unusual thinking (like delusions or hallucinations).

The bottom line: Psychosis due to caffeine intoxication is an extremely rare condition and even under this circumstance it would be even rarer to commit this kind of heinous crime. This defense team has a lot to prove.

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