What happens when you mix cannabis and caffeine?

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Photo credit: Shutterstock

Many people enjoy consuming caffeine and cannabis together. Some say the calming effects of cannabis pair well with the energizing effects of caffeine, creating a perfectly balanced high. Others enjoy a joint and a cup of coffee as part of their daily ritual. Since the legalization of cannabis in many states in the United States has increased, many companies are rushing to mix cannabis and caffeine, some taking the form of coffee drinks, but also sodas and energy drinks.

About 90% of Americans consume caffeine every day in one form or another, making it the most abused drug in the country. It is estimated that approximately 20 million people consume cannabis, a far cry from caffeine dominance, but a growing demographic nonetheless.

However, just because cannabis and caffeine act in some of the same brain regions, and box be mixed, does that mean they should? Let’s see how these chemicals interact.

The chemical relationship between caffeine and cannabis

Caffeine, like cannabis, is a psychoactive drug, meaning it interacts with the central nervous system in a way that affects brain function, which can temporarily alter mood, behavior, and perception.

Caffeine does this by blocking a neurotransmitter in the brain called adenosinewhich, when active, leads to feelings of fatigue.

woman holding beige coffee cup and smiling with closed eyes while wearing orange sweater

Coffee can enhance your euphoric cannabis high due to its reaction with dopamine. Photo credit: Shutterstock

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 improves short-term memory. Caffeine, like cannabis, interacts with dopamine, the brain molecule responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. Thus, caffeine, when used in tandem with cannabis, can enhance the effects of THC, the cannabis compound responsible for its euphoric high.

However, there are several ways these compounds work in very different and opposite ways. For example, caffeine activates the nervous system and activates the body’s response to stress, while THC can lessen the symptoms of stress. Caffeine has been shown increase short-term metabolic rateswhile it is well known that cannabis can bring the cravings. And, in a somewhat unexpected twist, caffeine amplifies memory loss associated with the cannabinoid THC.

Green cannabis leaves with the diagram of molecules shown in front for CBD

CBD and caffeine have no real reaction or enhancement like THC does. Photo credit: Shutterstock

Cannabadiol, or CBD – the non-intoxicating cannabis compound associated with many healing effects – doesn’t hold up very well to caffeine. Current thinking indicates that when CBD interacts in the brain with adenosine, the the enhancing properties of CBD are mitigated. While it’s very likely that high doses of both would have to be present to create such an effect, that doesn’t really help either.

A study conducted on monkeys demonstrates that the relationship between cannabis and caffeine is dose-dependent. For example, in the first part of the study, the cohort received only one milligram of caffeine. Then they were then allowed, via a lever, to self-administer cannabis. They chose cannabis, but on a limited basis. In the second round of the same study, the same cohort received three milligrams of caffeine and, again, unlimited access to cannabis. When given higher doses of caffeine, the monkeys self-administered more marijuana.

Conclusion

While caffeine can certainly amp up the high from THC, and they can work together to flood the brain with dopamine, that doesn’t mean your high will necessarily be any better. And for medical patients who are dependent on CBD, this may reduce its healing effects. So the enhanced caffeine-induced high may be in the eye of the beholder, so to speak. Ask yourself, how does this make me feel? If it works for you, continue. Otherwise, using them separately is also acceptable.

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