The positive effects of caffeine on our bodies are well known—increased alertness, higher energy, improved focus, boosted productivity.
Coffee’s growing popularity as a beverage was one of the main factors that led to the Industrial Revolution. Turns out switching from beer to coffee first thing in the morning actually makes one more productive (Hey, I’ll have to remember that one).
And then there’s the dark side of coffee. Most of us probably have at least some idea of our own personal caffeine tolerance, and how we feel when we’ve drank way too much caffeine—the jitters, upset stomach, heart feeling like it’s going to blow up, etc.
Anyone who’s ever swallowed enough caffeine-containing substances to feel those negative effects probably wants to avoid a repeat in the near future.
But, if you’re someone who can’t make it into the shower in the morning without downing a full pot of coffee—or if you’re just one of the many coffee lovers who has wondered aloud “hey, how much of this great tasting stuff would it take to actually kill me?” I have good news for you.
"It would likely take anywhere from 50-100 cups of coffee to result in a lethal dose of caffeine," said emergency physician Robert Glatter, MD from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, contributing to an article from USA Today.
"That said, pure powdered caffeine can be lethal if a teaspoon of it is consumed at once,” he continued.
Right. You probably already suspected that if a person swallows an excessive amount of pure concentrated caffeine, they could end up with some serious side effects.
But just how close have you ever gotten to drinking 50 to 100 cups of coffee?
Ask your friend who loves coffee more than anyone else in the world: what’s the highest number of cups you’ve ever drank in one day?
Go ahead, I’ll wait.
Write the answer down on a sheet of paper, you’ll need it for this next part:
Compare both numbers and see how close they are. Probably not very, right?
To Dr. Glatter’s second point regarding pure powdered caffeine, I’d say if you’ve ended up in a place where you’re handling powdered caffeine in the first place—and if putting it in your nose is something you’ve remotely considered—there’s a good chance you need to watch your caffeine consumption pretty closely.
(In fact, just maybe you should keep your nose away from caffeine altogether—except when you’re sniffing some freshly roasted beans or have a mug in front of your face.)
But the same warnings about powdered caffeine can apply to those caffeine pills they sell near gas station cash registers, which are easy to pop too many of.
Coffee, on the other hand, is much more difficult to accidentally drink too much of. Downing 25 cups of coffee at once would be ridiculous and you probably would feel pretty shitty about your decision later, but it wouldn't have anywhere near the same effect as swallowing or snorting a teaspoon of pure powdered caffeine.
“Coffee is to a square as caffeine is to a rectangle”—states the title of an article in the Journal of Caffeine Research by Dr. Patricia Broderick and Joloire Lauture.
Weirdly, since caffeine requires such a ridiculously high dosage to be fatal, you'd think that the number of reports of possible caffeine overdoses would be fairly low. In actuality, The American Association of Poison Control Centers receive thousands of calls each year from people who think they’re going to die because they consumed—among other things—a fuckton of caffeine.
A ton of these calls that come in don’t involve drinking coffee at all, they’re about energy drinks.
And a whole lot of those calls are from—you guessed it—kids and teenagers who drank too many cans of them.
While some of these people who called were actually overdosing on caffeine—a huge amount of them just thought they were. And again, a lot of the people calling in worried they ingested too much caffeine were also partaking in other substances at the time: narcotics, alcohol, stimulants
Again, according to Dr. Glatter’s figures, if you’re not drinking somewhere in the neighborhood of “50-100 cups of coffee” in a day, you probably don’t have to worry too much.
However, that is in reference to regular off the shelf coffee.
But, how does this stack up against the caffeine content when drinking the worlds strongest coffee varieties?
Lets take what Jennifer Temple, PhD, associate professor of exercise and nutrition sciences in the University at Buffalo School of Public Health and Health Professions, said in a Healthline interview as a baseline for the next bit of math.
"The lethal dose of caffeine for most people is about 10 grams, although this varies from person to person."
If we look at an extreme caffeine load of 1105 mg of caffeine per 12 oz cup. It would take just over 9 cups, in your system at once, to achieve this average lethal dose.
If we look at a variety with 702 milligrams of caffeine per 12 fl. oz., this would mean that you'd need to drink just over 14 cups, at once, to reach a lethal level dose.
In the end, mother nature can be your safety net here. We'll grab a final quote from Jennifer Temple, PhD, which states:
“Most of the time, if people have acute symptoms of caffeine toxicity, it starts with nausea and vomiting. So usually that’s sort of protective because you just get sick and you throw up the caffeine before it becomes too toxic.”
So, let's not chug 9-14 cups of the worlds strongest coffee through a funnel, all at once, and you should survive the day just fine.