Quitting Caffeine: How to Detox without Withdrawals (or Brain Fog)

Even though my friend Cameron was sitting across the table from me deeply engaged in conversation, my eyes were closing involuntarily.

It was a tiredness I could not shake even after multiple doctor visits and it was a result of my addiction to caffeine.

There is nothing inherently wrong or bad about caffeine. In fact, caffeine can increase your mood [1], concentration [2], improve blood flow [3], and aid metabolism [4]. The problem we are addressing here is addiction to caffeine despite any benefits or side effects.

My experience with Cameron prompted a quest to learn how to quit caffeine, which can be summed up with three distinct phases:

  • Weaning phase – this is where you learn how to wean off caffeine slowly so that you avoid withdrawal symptoms.
  • Replacement phase – there are numerous replacement nootropics you can choose from when quitting caffeine. They will make the experience easier on your body and provide similar concentration effects.
  • Re-introduction phase – the final phase is where you go from a life without caffeine to using the drug as a tool for specific purposes.

Using these three phases (which will be explained in more depth below), it’s possible to avoid brain fog and other withdrawal symptoms that create discomfort and disrupt your workflow.

quit caffeine

How to Wean Off Caffeine: No Cold Turkey Necessary

In few circumstances will you need to quit caffeine cold turkey. Even patients who are suffering from heart disease and elevated blood pressure can take a more measured approach, which will be more comfortable and less jarring in the short-term.

Depending on how much caffeine you currently take, there will be a different weaning process. Someone guzzling down three cups of coffee per day isn’t going to have the same process weaning off caffeine as a mild user.

Light Users: How to Wean Off Caffeine

If you are consuming < 150 – 200 mg per day, you are considered a light user for the purposes of this guide (this is about 1-2 cups of coffee).

Light caffeine users have a relatively easier task weaning themselves off of caffeine. I was in this category consuming around 100 – 150 mg per day in a single cup of cold-brew coffee early in the morning.

The weaning process for light users lasted for two days and decreased my dosage of caffeine to 80 mg per day. The total dosage per day doesn’t matter, but you want to have at least two days where the dosage is lower than normal, but high enough that you don’t exhibit heavy withdrawal symptoms (such as headaches, lack of concentration, etc).

Suggestions:

  • Use caffeine pills – using capsules of caffeine helps you to measure your exact dosage of caffeine. I took a caffeine and L-theanine pill, which I knew had 80 mg precisely.
  • Drink tea – typically tea is far lower in caffeine content than coffee (or other sources of caffeine). If you don’t have pills or want to have a beverage instead, a strong black tea can provide 60 – 80 mg of caffeine to help you wean off the substance.
  • Combine with L-theanine – there are dozens of studies [5] showing that caffeine and L-theanine have synergistic properties for focus. If you aren’t already using L-theanine, it’s a good idea to start with the weaning phase. It will reduce many of the negative side effects of caffeine (like heart rate, blood pressure, anxiety etc)

quitting caffeine

Heavy Users: How to Wean Off Caffeine

For heavy caffeine users, the weaning process can be a little more difficult and painful if done incorrectly.

If you are taking > 200 mg per day you are probably a heavy consumer. Everyone metabolizes caffeine differently so you may be a heavy consumer because it doesn’t have much of an effect (and thus the withdrawals during weaning will be perhaps less).

Either way, heavy users should try and reduce their consumption over the course of 3 – 5 days rather than two.

Try to approximate how much you are using per day and then divide that by the number of days you are going to use for the weaning phase. For example, if you consume 4 cups of coffee per day and you would like to wean off caffeine over 4 days, you might drink one less cup of coffee per day.

The weaning process can be longer than 3 – 5 days, but most people suffer from less mental capacity during the weaning process. To some degree, it’s better to get the weaning over with so the real detoxification can begin.

Replacing Caffeine: Life Without Caffeine

It might seem difficult to consider, but life without caffeine isn’t all that bad especially if you have the right replacements.

None of these nootropic options are going to be the limitless pill that solves your problems, but they can all make the process a little easier. They are broken down into the following two categories:

  1. Stress reduction
  2. Concentration replacement
  • Rhodiola Rosea – this natural herb is used in traditional Viking cultures and Chinese medicine. Most importantly, it is a potent adaptogen that helps the body overcome stress. Rhodiola rosea is recommended specifically for the purpose of cycling off caffeine. You can find some rhodiola here.
  • L-Tyrosine – most of the studies of this amino acid revolve around reducing the negative effects of stress on the body. Examples include military personnel who prevent mental fatigue during rigorous basic training. It can also be used to handle the withdrawal stress that comes with a caffeine detox. Here is a recommended source of L-tyrosine.
  • Phenylpiracetam – if you’re new to nootropics, this one might sound dangerous, but it is part of the racetam family of drugs (relatively safe). Phenylpiracetam is unique as it has memory enhancement benefits, but is also highly physically stimulating. So much so, the Olympic anti-doping agency has banned the use of this substance for athletes. For you, it might be a great replacement to caffeine for focus and stimulation. Use this source of phenylpiracetam.
  • Noopept – this is a much more well-researched nootropic that can aid as a concentration replacement depending on who you are. Some people experience noopept as a potent stimulant while others do not. It may be worth a try if you need a concentration boost and don’t want to use anything too powerful. Here is our recommended vendor for noopept.
  • Modafinil – although modafinil can be considered an alternative to caffeine, it is a more powerful (and potentially dangerous) replacement. If you are trying to wean yourself off of caffeine, getting hooked on modafinil is the last thing you want to do.

In fact, it interacts with many of the same brain systems as caffeine (releasing dopamine and adrenaline) so it could be dangerous for people who are trying to avoid that type of stimulation.

Re-Introduction: Using Caffeine as a Tool

Depending on how much caffeine you consume regularly and your personal biochemistry, the adjustment period will vary. For light caffeine users, it might only take a week or two to become sensitive to caffeine and avoid many of the drawbacks.

It may be best to go for a month or even 90 days without caffeine to not only detoxify your body, but also to build new habits for focus and concentration that do not rely on substances like caffeine.

It is also useful to re-introduce caffeine in smaller doses with plenty of space in between. For example, after over a month of no caffeine, limiting caffeine to 80-100 mg per day and only twice per week.

This can help you to prevent tolerance from growing while at the same time utilizing caffeine to achieve your goals.

References (Click to Expand)
  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21157384
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21489866
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21349479
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22569090
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24946991

Author

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  • Marisa Moon

    Didn’t think I really had a caffeine addiction going but I quit and had a terrible headache for two days…so I had to have some tea. Happy to read this article because it goes to show I should have weaned myself off instead of quitting cold turkey. Thanks!

    • Mansal Denton

      Hi Marisa, thanks for your experience! That’s what a lot of people have, I’m sure. Glad things are going better for you now 🙂