Caffeine and Cannabis: What Happens When You Mix Them

Caffeine and Cannabis

Caffeine and Cannabis: What Happens When You Mix Them

With the increasing legalization of the herb, marijuana is fast becoming a part of everyday life in many places around the world. Given this skyrocketing popularity of weed these days, it seems natural to ask how it reacts to other widely used drugs, like caffeine for example. What happens when you mix coffee with pot? We know that people often use them together. There are also cannabis-laced coffees in the market. Still, is it safe to mix caffeine and cannabis? How does it affect the body? Does combining caffeine and cannabis an ingredient for side-effects? This article will answer all your queries about mixing caffeine and cannabis.

Caffeine and cannabis: How do they affect our body?

Caffeine is the world’s most popular psychoactive drug. But unlike many other psychotropic drugs (cannabis, for example), caffeine is legal all over the world. Coffee is the most common source of it, but many other popular food items such as chocolate, cola, energy drinks, etc. also contain varying amounts of caffeine. As a psychoactive compound, caffeine works as a stimulant. By binding to the adenosine receptors in the endocannabinoid system of our body, it boosts energy, increases mental alertness, focus and combats fatigue or drowsiness.   

 The effects of cannabis can be energizing or calming depending on the specific genetic composition of the strain. There are two active cannabinoids present in marijuana: THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). While THC is psychoactive and produces euphoric and energizing effects on the user, CBD has calming and sedative properties. If you are using a THC-heavy cannabis strain, you’ll feel an uplifting and energizing high. But if you use a CBD strain, you’ll feel a deep relaxation instead of a cerebral high. So depending on what type of strain you are consuming, marijuana can be either a stimulant or a depressant.

Like caffeine, both THC and CBD interact with the endocannabinoid receptors in our nervous system and thereby produce these varying effects. THC, by attaching itself to the CB1 receptors, stimulates glutamate and dopamine production. As we have noted earlier, caffeine serves a similar function by binding to the adenosine receptors. Thus, both of them produce similar uplifting and energizing effects.

What happens when you pair caffeine and cannabis?

As Robin Torf, co-founder of a famous CBD brand and lifestyle line, notes: ‘THC and caffeine are two of the most widely used psychotropic chemicals in the world, and they also both have a very long history of use by humans.’ So, what happens when you have pot and coffee at the same time? Is mixing them safe for the health? However, there is very little scientific research on this issue. The little that has been studied suggests that caffeine and cannabis don’t simply cancel each other out.

A 2011 trial on squirrel monkeys has shown that low levels of caffeine can increase the THC high, but high levels of caffeine intake can produce the exact opposite effect, leaving your body wanting more THC. Moreover, combining high amounts of THC with a high concentration of caffeine can enhance addictive symptoms, making it more difficult for the user to quit THC.

Another study, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology in 2012, found that mixing caffeine and THC, even in low doses, can cause loss of working memory more than THC would do on its own. The study, though conducted on rats, provided some crucial insights to the possible effects of caffeine and cannabis on the human brain as well.

There are further reasons to be cautious. As Dr. Gary Starr, MD, medical director of a cannabis quality management nonprofit, says, ‘Both marijuana and caffeine are known to cause tachycardia – or an increased heart rate.’ Thus, combining these two can be risky for those who suffer from a heart arrhythmia or other underlying cardiac conditions.

In a more recent study published in the Annals of Neurosciences in 2017, scientists from Ben Carson School of Medicine at Babcock University Nigeria looked at the combined effects of caffeine and cannabis on rat brains.

Their research revealed that mixing caffeine with cannabis enhanced the levels of neurotransmitters like GABA, glutamate, dopamine, and G-6-PDH enzyme. Dopamine is known to be the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter or ‘happiness hormone’ that produces the reward response when we do something enjoyable. The enzyme G-6-PDH, on the other hand, plays a crucial role in energy production, glucose metabolism, cell growth, and oxidative stress reduction.

 Mixing caffeine and cannabis: the curious case of the edibles

When we smoke or vape cannabis, the cannabinoids are absorbed into our bloodstream via the lungs. It is entirely different with pot edibles, in which case the cannabinoids are metabolized by the liver. Now, the liver enzyme that metabolizes THC is the same which metabolizes caffeine.

It is for this reason, naturopathic physician and cannabis specialist Dr. Shawn Meirovici says, ‘there is much more potential for interaction if consuming coffee and any edible forms of cannabis.’ There is ‘more likely going to be a combined effect with these two compounds either amplifying or diminishing one another,’ D. Meirovici added. According to him, people suffering from poor liver function, memory loss, dementia or addiction, should avoid combining caffeine and cannabis, as it could aggravate those symptoms.      

More scientific research and clinical trials are needed to understand the full effects of mixing caffeine and cannabis. However, if you want to enjoy two of your favorite drugs together, experts recommend starting small and go slow. Valerie Sakota, the co-founder of a renowned weed startup, has a useful suggestion:

‘It’s important to create your dosing plan which works for your unique body and lifestyle.’ ‘If you’re new to testing out THC and caffeine,’ Sakota adds, ‘we recommend taking it for a spin on a morning when you’ve got a productivity goal but no meetings or deadlines. Start with a small dose – a few puffs of a joint or pipe, or a 2.5mg of a tincture of edible with your morning joe.’ Don’t overdo it and you will enjoy the bliss! 

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