Those who regularly drink coffee can smell small amounts of coffee and are quicker to recognize the aroma, compared to those who do not drink coffee, according to a recent study.
The habitual coffee drinkers are not only more sensitive to the smell of coffee and identify themselves faster, but the more they crave coffee, the better their ability to smell it becomes.
It is the first time that evidence has been found to show that coffee addicts are more sensitive to the smell of coffee.
The results could open the door to possible new ways of using aversion therapy to treat people addicted to substances with a characteristic odor, such as tobacco and cannabis.
The research was led by Dr. Lorenzo Stafford, an olfactory expert in the Department of Psychology at the University of Portsmouth.
He said: “We found that the higher the consumption of caffeine, the faster it recognized the smell of coffee.
“We also found that higher caffeine users could detect the odor of a very diluted coffee chemical at much lower concentrations, and this ability increased with their level of desire, so the more they wanted caffeine, the better their sense of smell for coffee.
“We’ve known for some time that drug cues (for example, the smell of alcohol) can trigger users’ desire, but here we show with a slightly addictive drug, that the desire may be related to a greater ability to detect that substance.
“Caffeine is the most consumed psychoactive drug and these findings suggest that changes in the ability to detect odors could be a useful index of drug dependence.”
The team wanted to examine if there was any difference in the ability of people to smell and respond to the smell of coffee, depending on whether or not they were heavy coffee drinkers. The results point firmly to a link, since large coffee drinkers are more sensitive to the smell of coffee and the smell of their cravings.
The study is published in Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology.
The investigation was based on two experiments.
In the first experiment, 62 men and women were divided into those who never drank anything that contains caffeine; those who consumed moderate amounts (70-250 mg, equivalent to 1-3.5 cups of instant coffee per day); and those who consumed a high amount (300 mg, equivalent to 4 or more cups of instant coffee per day).
Each person was blindfolded and, in order to test their sensitivity to the smell of the coffee, they were asked to differentiate very small amounts of the smell of the coffee from the smell whites, which have no smell. For the odor recognition test, they were asked to identify as quickly as possible the aroma of the real coffee and, separately, the lavender essential oil. Those who drank more coffee were able to identify the coffee at weaker concentrations and were quicker to identify the smell.
Each person was also asked to complete a questionnaire about the desire for caffeine. As expected, the results showed that the more caffeine a person consumed, the stronger their desire to consume caffeine.
“What is most interesting, the greatest desire, specifically the one that measures caffeine’s ability to reverse withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue, was related to an increased sensitivity in the odor detection test,” said Dr. Stafford.
In a second test, 32 people not involved in the first experiment were divided into those who drink coffee and those who do not, and were tested using the same odor detection test for coffee odor, and with a separate test for coffee. a control, using a non-food smell.
Again, the results showed that caffeine consumers were more sensitive to coffee odor, but fundamentally, they did not differ in sensitivity to non-food odor.
Dr. Stafford said the findings suggest that sensitivity to smell and its links to desire could be used to help break some behaviors related to drug use, including tobacco addiction or cannabis dependence.
Previous research showed that those who were trained to associate an odor with something unpleasant later showed greater discrimination to that odor, which provides evidence of a possible model for the aversion to conditioned odor.