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The caffeine + cannabis connection


With the recent news that cannabis activist and American icon Willie Nelson has launched a CBD-infused coffee line, you might be wondering what – if any – connection exists between coffee and pot.

Many people misunderstand what coffee actually does to the brain, and how it provides that much-loved boost to our day. A cup of coffee, whatever form it takes, prevents fatigue but it does not provide energy. This is because coffee is an antagonist substance; this means it is a substance which blocks opioids in the brain by attaching to opioid receptors without actually activating them. When caffeine enters the body, it works to block what are called adenosine neurotransmitters in your brain; adenosine neurotransmitters are receptors that cause you to feel fatigue. As long as they are blocked by caffeine, they will not be activated and you will not feel tired.

Coffee alone performs a bit of a science experiment in your brain, however, it gets a bit more complex when you mix cannabis into the equation. A 2015 research study found that when interacting with caffeine, cannabis experiences what is called a dose-response curve. A dose-response curve refers to the relationship between an effect of a drug and the amount given.

Scientists conclude that A2A antagonist drugs like caffeine, “potentiated the effect of threshold doses” of THC and its natural counterpart anandamide, causing a “reinforcing effect.” In simpler terms, it meant the presence of caffeine in your system makes cannabis more potent. This increase in potency is also referred to as synergistic effects, meaning the effects produced by the combination of cannabis and caffeine is greater than the sum of effects produced when the substance is consumed alone. This also rings true when considering the effects of CBD and caffeine. Long-term caffeine consumption is said to protect against the memory loss that can be associated with high-CBD doses.

The answer to why this is was addressed in a recent clinical trial performed at Northwestern University in Chicago, which looked at the impacts of coffee consumption on our internal chemistry. Scientists found that with increased coffee consumption – between four and eight cups per day – caffeine begins to interact with our endocannabinoid system. Furthermore, caffeine works to reduce the neurotransmitters related to the ECS; the opposite of what happens when you consume cannabis.

As we know, the ECS helps regulate many things in our body, including stress and anxiety; this study found cannabinoids could disappear in the presence of chronic stress, the kind of stress and anxiety caused by large amounts of coffee consumption. CBD is said to have numerous health benefits, including antioxidant boosts, pain-relief, anti-inflammatory properties, depression relief, and anti-bacterial properties. In relation to coffee, CBD has been shown to produce the effects of anxiety and stress relief; this means CBD can help balance out the occasional over-stimulating effects caused by too much caffeine, also known as the ‘jitters.’ So, the relationship we see between cannabis and coffee, or that dose-response curve, can be related back to our bodies trying to create, or return to, equilibrium.

Story by Sophie Naprawa
Graphic by Marlo Hwang

Van der Pop does not condone or endorse the illegal consumption of cannabis.

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