Caffeine and cannabis are two of the most widely used drugs around the world. With both substances being so popular, it is inevitable that many people frequently use the two together. Some people claim that caffeine improves their marijuana high, making them feel more alert, focused, and energetic.
But is there any scientific evidence out there to back these claims, or are they just an example of people feeling what they believe they should feel? And are there any negative side effects caused by consuming caffeine and cannabis together?
In this article, we will take a look at the existing research on the subject and do our best to answer the question “are caffeine and cannabis a good mix?”
How Caffeine and Cannabis Affect the Human Body
Caffeine is probably the most widely consumed psychoactive substance in the world. It is found in beverages such as tea, coffee, cola, and energy drinks, chocolate, and many over-the-counter medications.
In low doses, caffeine can help to improve mental alertness and focus, and it is commonly used as a pick-me-up to combat tiredness. However, in high doses, caffeine could cause several adverse side effects, including:
- High blood pressure
- Irregular heartbeat
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Increased urination
- Increased gastric acid
- Sleep disorders
- Increased risk of depression or anxiety
Like coffee, cannabis is a popular psychoactive substance. In most places it is still illegal, but this is gradually changing as the herb is becoming more widely used all the time. As well as the high for which it is most famous, marijuana is now thought to have a range of medicinal benefits and can be used to treat symptoms ranging from pain to seizures, as well as to generally improve mental well-being.
There are countless strains of cannabis which have slightly different effects on the body and mind. Some produce a more energizing and uplifting high, while others induce deep relaxation. Of course, there are also some negative side effects associated with marijuana. These include:
- Dry mouth or eyes
- Reduced concentration and coordination
- Reduced memory function
Caffeine and cannabis both have a powerful influence over the human body due to their ability to bind with receptors that exist in our brains and nervous systems.
Caffeine works by influencing adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine has many important biological functions including the regulation of neurotransmitters, dilating and constricting blood vessels, and protecting cells against oxidative stress.
The psychoactive compound in cannabis, THC, acts on CB1 receptors which are designed to work with our own endogenous cannabinoids such as anandamide. These chemicals have many vital functions within the body, including regulating neurotransmitters and influencing pain perception, memory, and cognitive function.
It is thought that there is a complex interaction between adenosine receptors and CB1 receptors. Both can influence the neurotransmitters glutamate and dopamine, and both have a shared mechanism for addiction.
What Happens When You Mix Caffeine and Cannabis?
There are sadly few scientific studies specifically on the combined effects of caffeine and cannabis. However, there is some evidence available regarding what happens when these two common substances are used together.
One example is a study published in the Annals of Neurosciences in 2017. This controlled trial looked at the effects of caffeine and cannabis on six groups of rats. The researchers administered high and low doses of caffeine, high and low doses of marijuana, and combined low-dose caffeine and cannabis, while the remaining group served as a control.
After being treated for 21 days, the animals’ brain tissues were tested for the presence of various neurotransmitters and enzymes. The results indicated that all of the animals treated with caffeine and cannabis had increased levels of the neurotransmitters GABA, glutamate, and dopamine, and an enzyme known as G-6-PDH. The animals treated with caffeine showed more significant increases compared with those treated with cannabis, and increases in G-6-PDH were significantly greater in the combined caffeine-cannabis group.
Of course, these results were produced under laboratory conditions, and rats are rats, not humans. So what do they really mean?
The fact that combining caffeine and cannabis increases dopamine is significant. Dopamine is a ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter and is associated with the reward response when we do something pleasurable. The fact that caffeine and cannabis both boost dopamine levels is probably the reason why having a steaming hot coffee alongside your weed of choice feels so good.
The most significant changes produced by combining caffeine and cannabis were in the enzyme G-6-PDH. This enzyme plays a vital role in glucose metabolism, energy production, cell growth and development, and preventing oxidative stress. It might seem like increasing this enzyme would be a good thing, but in reality, overexpression of G-6-PDH has been associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and increased blood lipids.
Further research is definitely required to clarify the combined effects of caffeine and cannabis on the body, but it seems that the two drugs may not work as well together as some people think.
Caffeine, Cannabis, and Memory Function
One of the most documented adverse effects of marijuana is reduced memory and cognitive function. This problem is especially pronounced in people who start using it a young age while their brains are still developing.
Because caffeine increase alertness and focus, it is tempting to think that having a strong cup of coffee with your joint could combat these effects, but it appears that the exact opposite could be true.
Another study published in 2012 in the British Journal of Pharmacology looked at the effects of combining caffeine and THC on working memory in rats. It found that THC induced memory deficits when administered alone, and that these deficits were increased by combining THC with caffeine. It is thought that these surprising results are due to the way that caffeine interacts with adenosine receptors in the brain.
Caffeine, Cannabis, and Addiction
Because caffeine and cannabis both increase dopamine production, combining the two may also increase the risk of addiction to either substance.
A 2011 study published in Addiction Biology observed the effects of administering a caffeine-like substance, MSX-3, to monkeys with a history of THC use. It found that, while lower doses reduced the likelihood of the monkeys reinstating self-administration of THC, higher doses had the opposite effect. These results indicate that a common pathway of addiction exists for the two drugs, and using the two together could increase your chances of getting hooked.
Caffeine, Cannabis, and Anxiety
It is well-known that caffeine and cannabis can both cause anxiety in certain people. However, marijuana is also frequently used to relieve the symptoms of anxiety. This complex relationship is in part due to a personal response to the drug, and in part due to varying levels of THC and another cannabinoid, CBD.
It appears that THC can help to relieve anxiety in low doses, but increase it in higher doses. CBD, on the other hand, seems to decrease anxiety at all doses.
Although there is no current research on whether combining caffeine and marijuana increases the risk of developing anxiety, it certainly cannot be ruled out. Therefore, if you are prone to feeling anxious, it might be best to avoid using these two substances together, just to be on the safe side. You will also want to avoid high-THC marijuana strains, and opt for a variety that is rich in CBD instead.
Caffeine, Cannabis, and Blood Pressure
Both caffeine and cannabis influence the cardiovascular system and can cause changes in heart rate and blood pressure.
One 2011 study found that, when regular marijuana users suddenly stopped using the drug, their blood pressure significantly increased. Caffeine also raises blood pressure, and so although it is unclear whether using the two substances together intensifies this effect. It may be worth reducing your caffeine intake if you are withdrawing from cannabis, or simply taking a tolerance break.
Final Thoughts: Are Caffeine and Cannabis a Good Mix?
Many people swear by drinking a strong cup of coffee alongside a joint, stating that it increases alertness and enhances their high. Although research on the subject is minimal, it appears that this is not entirely true.
The bottom line is that although the combined effects of coffee and weed are still largely unknown, they may not be as good a mix as you think. Caffeine and marijuana affect the brain in a somewhat similar way, and this can cause problems, especially when it comes to short-term memory and the risk of addiction.
It is unlikely that low doses of caffeine mixed with cannabis will cause any serious problems, so you don’t need to throw out your favorite mug just yet. However, you might want to practice moderation, at least until more solid evidence emerges.
Now, where did I leave my coffee?