Caffeine Wean

I’ve dosed myself with caffeine every morning since I was 8. If I don’t have a dose within ~1 hour of waking up, I get a headache that will not leave until the next morning. The caffeine was originally a medication for migrations that had no clear source. Now it isn’t clear if I still get those same idiopathic headaches but caffeine treats them, or if I have just swapped whatever that problem was for a caffeine addiction that gives me headaches during withdrawal. I’ve attempted to kick the habit a few times in the past, but these always ended poorly. So, I decided to try again but with academic rigor so as to decide for good whether my headaches are withdrawal-induced or caffeine-treated.

Hypothesis: My headaches are caused by withdrawal from caffeine, a substance that I am addicted to.
Alternative Hypothesis: My headaches are due to some biological cause, and caffeine treats this undefined problem.

Experimental Approach: Attempt to slowly wean myself off of caffeine. If I can do this successfully and remain headache-free for an extended period of time, I will take this as evidence for a caffeine addiction. If I cannot, I will take this as evidence for a biological problem.

Today’s post explains exactly how I plan to do this, in academically painful detail (below the fold).

Figure showing caffeine reduction starting conditions.
Figure 1: (A) My current dose is 2 packets per day. Shown are 24 packets, enough for 12 days. I later added 5 packets to the total. (B) Packets claim to weigh 20g, and my scale agrees. Packaging is included in this weight. (C) An empty, seal-able, flexible-plastic container weighs 2g. (D) The first filled container has a mass of 182g, giving 180g powder. (E) The second filled container has a mass of 202g, giving 200g powder. (F) The third and final container weighs 200g, for 198g powder.

I’ve been drinking this instant Vietnamese coffee for a long time now, because it gives me a pretty precise daily caffeine dose and has kept me more headache-free than has normal coffee. I attribute this to high variability in brewed coffee, since the amount of grounds used, water temperature, and brew time vary day-to-day and likely have large effects on final caffeine concentration. So the plan is to use this instant coffee, starting on Day 1 with the amount that I am currently using, followed by 1 gram/day reductions. This will be slow process, allowing me to adjust to the reduced caffeine intake. If during this process I hit quantities that fail to prevent headaches, I will stay on that dose until the headaches stop. If I hit a dose that causes daily headaches for at least 5 days, I will conclude that this is a biological problem.

My current dose is 2 packets per day (Fig. 1A), which should be 40g including the packaging. To more precisely determine the daily amount, I emptied 29 packets (14.5 daily doses) into 3 sandwhich bags and weighed each (Fig. 1). The results are summarized in Table 1, and were remarkably close to the expected value (39.9g actual versus 40g expected).

TABLE 1: Total contents (excluding container weight) of each bag and calculated daily dose (total/14.5 days).
180g 200g 198g 578g 39.9g

Tomorrow marks Day 0 of The Weaning, which I will begin by measuring out 40g into a tared coffee mug using the scale shown in Fig. 1. I will decrease my daily intake linearly, 1g/day, for the days following as described above, and will follow up this post with the results or with problems that I run into.

2 thoughts on “Caffeine Wean

  1. Hey, what about standard deviation. No experiment is complete without statistics, right!

    1. Excellent point! I suppose I’ll need to make at least 2 clones of myself, wait until they reach adulthood (while making sure that they are highly addicted to caffeine), and then all 3 of us can repeat the process. I have a suspicion that the IRB wouldn’t approve this experiment, though…

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