A Kentucky man accused of murdering his wife has cited that caffeine is to blame for his homocidal tendencies. Woody Will Smith says that the high amounts of caffeine he had been consuming drove him so insane that he cannot be held responsible for killing his wife. Is Woody’s story something that will hold up in court? Or does he have more than caffeine to be jittery about now?
The caffeine defense has a surprising history, and has been used before. More on that later, but first we should examine the anatomy of a caffeine overdose. Believe it or not, despite the fact that caffeine is in so much we consume these days you can actually overdose on it. A high dose of caffeine is often served by itself in many products. A single caffeine pill can contain up to 200 milligrams in it, meaning taking two of them already places you at high risk for suffering the effects of an overdose. Take a caffeinated beverage for instance – these often contain somewhere between 35 and 45 milligrams of caffeine. Two 2-liter bottles of the same beverage would easily contain enough to put a single drinker over the edge for jitters, nervousness, insomnia, irritability, and other symptoms. But would drinking two liters of a soft-drink be enough of a defense for murder?
The caffeine amount is similar to the case of Daniel Noble who ran over pedestrians after drinking two large cups of designer coffee. He used the defense in court and was found innocent by reason of temporary insanity due to the coffee he drank. In the current case of Mr. Woody Smith, the caffeine overdose was accompanied by days of insomnia. Insomnia and Sleep walking have both been used as a defense in the past and both have had varying levels of success. Sleep, it seems, is a dangerous thing to lose it seems as so many people are blaming it for murder and temporary insanity.
So how much caffeine will make someone a murderer? There’s no amount that will make someone a murderer by itself. Many people have experienced consuming high doses of caffeine. Aside from the negative feel and illusion of focus, many people have reported it carries with it no real cognitive effects. The sleeplessness involved on the other hand may have long term effects that could lead to violent behavior. Sleep deprivation can actually change the brain’s chemistry to bring about symptoms similar to full on psychosis. This can lead to violent outbursts.
Will the caffeine defense be seen in courtrooms more if it proves effective in this case? Perhaps. But if it does, will new regulations make the consumption of vast quantities of caffeine illegal? Coffee drinkers everywhere certainly hope not. It’s interesting and possibly terrifying to think that five cups of coffee, 12 soft drinks, or merely two high dose caffeine pills in order for a person’s brain chemistry to change enough to have an effect on their likelihood to commit murder.