‘Friends’ Deadly Coffee Intake: How Much Caffeine Is Enough To Kill You?

By Philip Ross on April 30, 2013 11:26 AM EDT

Caffeine
Caffeine is the most widely consumed drug in the world. But how much is too much? (Photo: Reuters)

Joey, Chandler, Ross, Phoebe, Rachel and Monica, darlings of the American sitcom for over 10 years, drank copious coffee during the 236 episodes of "Friends." Even the logo of the gang's watering hole, Central Perk, is as familiar to viewers as the Brooklyn Bridge or Empire State Building.

One blogger points out, though, that underneath the guise of the gang's seemingly innocuous coffee shop prattle lies a nefarious and deadly secret: The amount of caffeine our most beloved coffee addicts consume is enough to kill almost 2,000 people.  

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Scientific American estimates the amount of coffee consumed on the show over the sitcom's 10 seasons to be around 3,100 gallons, or the equivalent of 3 pounds of caffeine - enough to send 1,900 people to the hospital. From Scientific American:

First, given their famous mugs, we'll assume that they drink 20 oz. coffees. Second, we'll assume that each friend consumes maybe two of these enormous drinks each episode. Finally, we assume that this kind of coffee mainlining happened over each of Friends' 236 episodes.

Given that a 20 oz. cup of coffee contains about 480 mg of caffeine, the total amount of caffeine the group consumed was about 3 pounds.  

So how much caffeine is too much?

Caffeine is a central nervous stimulant. According to Forbes, it works by blocking the receptors in your brain that make you tired. "In clinical terms, caffeine is an antagonist of the A1 adenosine receptor," Forbes reports. Adenosine is produced by neurons that fire when it's time for your nervous system to start shutting down.  

According to Mayo Clinic, drinking four or more cups of coffee a day - somewhere in the ball park of 500 to 600 mg - is a bit overkill. Adverse effects at this level of caffeine intake include insomnia, nervousness, restlessness, irritability, upset stomach, fast heartbeat and muscle tremors. Caffeine is also a diuretic, meaning it can deplete your body of vital body fluid and electrolytes.

But is it enough to kill you?

According to the National Institute of Health, or NIH, there's little evidence to show that a few cups of coffee a day has any adverse effects on the human body. "Administered in doses up to 250 mg to humans did not appear to produce significant respiratory stimulation," the institute reports. One study even shows that caffeine helps infants who have trouble breathing.

However, NIH does report that too much caffeine can prove dangerous. "Following massive overdose, secondary respiratory failure has been reported. Acute lung injury has been reported in a [newborn] following a massive overdose," NIH reports.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, 90 percent of people in the U.S. consume some level of caffeine, whether through food sources or caffeinated beverages. The average amount of caffeine Americans consumed a day between 2001 and 2006 was about 145 mg.

The FDA states that the acute human fatal dose of caffeine appears to be greater than 170 mg per kg. By that standard, a 140 pound (63.5 kg) person would have to ingest 10,795 mg of caffeine - or about 53 8 oz cups of coffee - to be in danger of dying.

While the exact number of deaths reported in the U.S. due to caffeine overdose is unclear, it's certainly small. One study, published in Pharmacological Reviews, found that there is little evidence to show that overdoses from caffeine are fatal, or even that too much caffeine can cause anxiety.

So, just like our friends of "Friends," it looks like there's no reason to stop chugging the drip. Let's face it, the work day wouldn't be the same without it.

Read more from iScience Times:

'World's Strongest Coffee' Contains 200% More Caffeine Than Average Cup: Where To Buy 'Death Wish' Dark Roast

Caffeine Pollution In Pacific Waters

Caffeine Gives A Boost To Aging Muscles

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