Many people enjoy consuming caffeine and cannabis together. Some say that the calming effects of cannabis blend well with energizing effects of caffeine, creating a perfectly balanced high. Others enjoy a joint and a cup of joe as part of their daily ritual. Since cannabis legalization across many states in the United States has increased, many companies are jumping to mix cannabis and caffeine together, some taking form as coffee beverages, but also in soda and energy drinks.
About 90% of Americans consume caffeine every day in one form or another, making it the most consumed drug in the country. It is estimated that around 20 million people consume cannabis, a far stretch from caffeine’s dominance, but a demographic growing in size nonetheless.
However, just because cannabis and caffeine work in some of the same regions of the brain, and can be mixed together, does that mean they should? Let’s take a look at how these chemicals interact.
The Chemical Relationship Between Caffeine and Cannabis
Caffeine, like cannabis, is a psychoactive drug, meaning that it interacts with the central nervous system in a way that affects brain function, which may temporarily alter mood, behavior, and perception.
Caffeine does this by blocking a neurotransmitter in the brain called adenosine, which when active, leads to feelings of fatigue.
When the adenosine receptor is blocked, people who consume caffeine feel more alert. Caffeine also acts as a mild cognitive enhancer, and creates more focus and improvement in short-term memory. Caffeine, like cannabis, interacts with dopamine, the brain molecule responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. So caffeine, when used in tandem with cannabis, may enhance the effects of THC, the compound in cannabis responsible for its euphoric high.
However, there are a couple of ways that these compounds work in very different and opposite ways. For example, caffeine activates the nervous system and turns on the body’s stress response, whereas THC may mitigate symptoms of stress. Caffeine has been shown to boost metabolic rates in the short term, while it’s well-known that cannabis can bring on the munchies. And, in a somewhat unexpected twist, caffeine magnifies memory loss associated with the cannabinoid THC.
Cannabadiol, or CBD – the non-intoxicating cannabis compound associated with many healing effects – does not fare too well against caffeine. Current thought indicates that when CBD interacts in the brain with adenosine, the ameliorative properties of CBD are mitigated. Though it is very likely that high doses of both would have to be present to create such an effect, it doesn’t really help either.
A study conducted on monkeys demonstrates that the relationship between cannabis and caffeine is dose dependent. For example, within the first part of the study, the cohort was given just one milligram of caffeine. Next, they were then allowed, via a lever, to self-administer cannabis. They did choose cannabis, but on a limited basis. In the second round of the same study, the same cohort was given three milligrams of caffeine, and once again, unlimited access to cannabis. When given higher doses of caffeine, the monkeys self-administered more marijuana.
While caffeine may definitely amplify the euphoria from THC, and they may work together to flood the brain with dopamine, that doesn’t mean that your high will necessarily be better. And for medical patients who rely on CBD, it may reduce its healing effects. So, the enhanced high brought on by caffeine may all be in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. Ask yourself, how does this make me feel? If it works for you, then carry on. If not, using them separately is okay, too.