A story about teenagers smoking coffee grounds to get a legal high went viral yesterday. The reality is that ingesting caffeine this way makes you feel so miserable that, if anyone is actually doing this for fun, they're completely stupid.
Photos by Elizabeth Vazquez
If you’re in the minority of teenagers without access to pot, you’re liable to do some pretty stupid shit to catch a buzz. Lately, the parent-fear machine, a.k.a. the internet, has been ablaze with warnings about kids smoking coffee grounds. The side effects of ingesting caffeine in this fashion include convulsions, diarrhea, dizziness, hallucinations, vomiting, fever, and a bunch of other scary nonsense that has little to do with the method of ingestion. This potentially fake fad is nothing new; in 2011 a Reddit user outlined his experiences as a bean head, and a post on Erowid from 2007 summed up the stupidest way to consume caffeine. Obviously, I had to try it out. Luckily for my dumb ass, my friend Elizabeth was there to both capture the magic and call an ambulance if I started hallucinating and shitting uncontrollably.
First we scoured YouTube for tutorials, and after stumbling across multiple videos of grade-school-aged children rolling coffee joints using Post-It notes and cotton balls (unfortunately taken down), I realized that it was up to me to blaze the trail. As a veteran smoker, I started with the classic: a spliff.
I pulled out my coffee grinder, cigarettes, rolling papers, a cotton ball, and George W. and Laura Bush rolling tray, and I mixed a hefty portion of ground hazelnut-flavored dark roast in with my tobacco. I managed to roll one of my least impressive spliffs to date, complete with a homemade filter, because despite the years of abuse my lungs have suffered in the name of “chillin’ balls”, I still wasn’t quite ready to subject them to something I had just watched a child almost vomit from without the benefit of a barrier.
Out on the balcony, I shouted “TURN UP,” lit the tip, and took my first drag. I thought I could make out the faintest hint of hazelnut, but beyond the artificial flavoring, there wasn’t much of a difference from a regular cigarette. Perhaps I hadn’t used enough grounds. I rolled a second spliff with twice the fun, and went for a hefty pull, expecting to come up heaving. Surprisingly, the smoke came in smooth, although a bit bitter and lacking in any recognizable coffee taste. I felt stupid and Elizabeth asked if this was supposed to make me hallucinate. I didn’t think so, but I was truly hoping it would help clear a two-day blockage in my lower intestines. I felt a little lightheaded.
Like any self-disrespecting toker, I was anxious to kick it up a notch, so I grabbed my vape pen and did my best to clean out the remaining wax before filling it up with some finely milled Turkish coffee my grandmother had given me before going on vacation. I hope she never reads this.
After my first hit I knew I was on the right track; it tasted like burnt chemicals and distinctly reminded me of my misadventures with salvia. Right away I started to feel pressure behind my eyes and a small migraine took hold. In a word, it was unpleasant. My second hit made me cough heavily and washing it down with water barely cleared the bad but boring taste out. The lightheadedness and headache intensified, and I looked down at George W. Bush’s face for guidance. Predictably, it didn’t help. Elizabeth suggested we go for a walk, and I wanted to up the ante, so we made our way down to the local smoke shop to pick up a crack pipe and a bong. Along the way, Elizabeth commented that I was staggering, although I felt no different besides the headache.
I realized at the smoke shop that there is no legal way of asking for a crack pipe, and after a few failed attempts at alluding to a “glass straw for vaping," the owner asked me if I wanted to use it with wax or shatter. “Neither, I’m smoking coffee.” He gave me a look reserved for liars and idiots. Technically I was only one of those. Finally I spotted the correct pipe and selected a cheap bong and some screens, which he rung up with intense suspicion.
Elizabeth and I made it all the way home before realizing that he’d neglected to put the crack pipe in the bag. I jogged back to the store, and on the way my headache worsened. I found it difficult to keep a steady pace or a comfortable breath. So far this sucked.
At home, I brewed some old school Turkish coffee while I tried my hand at the pipe. Admittedly, I’ve never actually held a crack pipe before, but I have seen most of The Wire, so I dribbled a pinch of coffee into the hole and held a flame under the glass. Within a few seconds I could see smoke pouring from the top, and I sucked in a mouthful. It was terrible, the worst so far.
My tongue felt thick and dry, and my throat begged me to cut this shit out. The headache spiked, and my whole body tensed up with uncomfortable chills. I took a forced second drag in the name of science and felt my eyes grow tired. The coffee on the stove started foaming over, and I jumped to take it off the heat. This would be my bongwater.
While we waited for the coffee to cool, I leaned back in my chair and suffered. The taste of burnt crap lingered in my mouth and nose, and I chugged a bottle of water. It helped a little, but I felt anxious and lethargic; a truly annoying combination. While I languished, Elizabeth prepared my bong; filling the base with lukewarm coffee. I went to the bathroom to splash water in my face before tackling the final crucible, and in the mirror I noticed my pupils had dilated too much. I felt my heart pound heavy in my chest. I tried to take a shit, but that wasn’t even an option.
It had started to rain outside by the time I got back to the table to hit the bong; the sickly smell of coffee wafted up the chamber. I begrudgingly took a small rip, and to my surprise it was silky smooth. Maybe my body had adjusted to this stupid method; maybe I was addicted. I took another, larger hit and immediately coughed up a thick cloud of smoke. In the middle of my raucous coughing, I gave up.
For the next few hours, I felt like shit. My closest experience was taking one too many Ritalin back when I was 17. That anxious, nauseating, sluggish, unfocused forced concentration was one of my worst early “bad trips," and it ended with my lying on the cool tile floor of my bathroom waiting for it to pass. I thought about doing that now, but the bathroom in this apartment was some sort of sticky vinyl. The headache had blossomed into radiating waves of tension, and I felt like throwing up. I wanted to punch that kid on YouTube. After a while, I decided that I would definitely need my good ol’ buddy marijuana to calm my nerves. A hastily rolled joint immediately took the edge off, and the pressure in my head began to dissipate, although the chills and tenseness remained. I curled up into the fetal position in bed and promptly fell asleep.
A couple hours later, around 3 AM, I woke up. My T-shirt and pillow were soaked with sweat, but I felt much better and still a little stoned. With a gram or two of coffee grounds having passed through my lungs, I can guarantee that there’s almost no stupider way of getting caffeine into your body. If you’re really hard-up for an alternative method, I suggest caffeine tablets, caffeine body soap, a caffeine inhaler, caffeinated mints, or even caffeinated bacon.
There's no way this "fad" is real, but just in case there are actual, real teenagers out there doing this shit: For the love of God, quit smoking coffee grounds.
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