Coffee and cannabis are two of the most widely used psychoactive substances in the world. Whereas cannabis is often consumed to relax the body, enhance perception, and stimulate creativity, coffee – like tea and other caffeinated beverages – is typically used to energize and help people focus, particularly in the face of exhaustion.
More recently, several unregulated cannabis start-ups have begun producing and selling coffee infused with doses of hemp-derived CBD. Caffeine is typically thought of as a mild cognitive enhancer. It increases one’s ability to focus and can improve short term memory. Physiologically, caffeine promotes fat metabolism and wards off sleepiness. These effects are mostly opposite those of THC, which can also help one focus, but briefly impairs short term memory while decreasing fat metabolism.
Caffeine is a stimulant that activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is intrinsic to the basic human stress-response. But THC mitigates many of the effects of stress. Paradoxically, THC can even restore memory in animals impaired by chronic stress. When coffee and cannabis are combined, which effects win out?
Since plant-cannabinoids like THC and CBD weakly inhibit the metabolism of caffeine by blocking an enzyme called CYP1A2, one might expect that caffeine would overpower the cannabinoids.
As it turns out, their interaction is not so straightforward. Caffeine actually amplifies memory impairment caused by THC. And this effect may be specific to short-term memory. To understand how this happens, it’s necessary to look at the neurological properties of these special compounds.
Research published in March of 2018 found that coffee consumption had some surprising effects on the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is the large neurotransmitter network that is both activated by and named after the cannabis plant.
A neurotransmitter is a chemical compound that allows nerve cells to communicate with each other.
Amazingly, the compounds in the cannabis plant boost neurotransmission in the ECS.
This has an effect on a whole host of bodily functions, including appetite, mood, sleep, and pain systems.
As it turns out, coffee consumption may also have an impact on this system.
Except, unlike cannabis, coffee consumption may dim the endocannabinoid system, causing it to behave in the opposite way compared to cannabis-stimulated effects.
The recent research, conducted by Northwestern University, discovered that those people who drank four to eight cups of coffee a day showed markedly decreased levels of endocannabinoid metabolites in their blood.
Metabolites are break-down products that occur when the body intakes certain compounds and excretes the leftovers.
According to Dr. Marylin Cornelis, lead study author and assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the lack of ECS metabolites indicate that drinking too much coffee is stressful.
“The increased coffee consumption over the two-month span of the trial may have created enough stress to trigger a decrease in metabolites in this system,” explains Cornelis.
“It could be our bodies’ adaptation to try to get stress levels back to equilibrium.”
The impact of caffeine on the ECS may be why combining coffee and cannabis is so appealing.
Research over decades has shown that caffeine can produce both positive and negative effects on the human body.
The aforementioned Northwestern research is a potential indicator that adding a little cannabis to your espresso may feel pleasant because of the balancing effects that one substance has upon another.
Yet, there are other reasons why there’s so much interest in mixing the two botanical creations.
While both cannabis and coffee have bittersweet reputations, the two plants are also abundant sources of antioxidants.
In fact, past research indicates that coffee is one of the biggest sources of antioxidants across the globe, as it is consumed more widely and unanimously than just about any other antioxidant-rich food.
Antioxidants are compounds that counteract oxidative stress in the body.
So, while the Northwestern study indicates that high doses of coffee may contribute to stress, the common morning elixir also contains nutrients that protect cells from damage from stress.
Fascinatingly, cannabis compounds are also potent antioxidants. Certain cannabis components may actually be more powerful antioxidants than vitamins C and E.
The two plants together? Seems like an antioxidant-rich superfood in the making.
If the interaction between cannabis and coffee weren’t already interesting enough, mixing your next cup of joe with a little CBD may create a more mild-mannered experience.
CBD and caffeine have opposite actions on certain cell receptors in the brain called the adenosine receptors.
Adenosine is a neurotransmitter with a calming effect on the nervous system.
In fact, fluctuations in adenosine tell you when its time to wake up and when its time to fall asleep at night.
Unlike CBD, caffeine blocks adenosine receptors from responding to the neurotransmitter.
As a result, you feel more alert and less calm.
CBD, however, binds to adenosine receptors and allows greater concentrates of adenosine to be used by brain cells.
Cannabidiol’s effect on adenosine receptors may contribute to its calming and anxiolytic effects.
While more research on mixing caffeine and CBD is needed, the opposing actions of these two compounds may explain the mellow and energized feeling many people report after sipping on a freshly brewed pot of CBD-infused coffee.
Who wouldn’t want to feel alert without the jitters?