If recent research is any indication, cannabis and coffee may have more in common than you might think.
While cannabis-infused coffee pods and cold brews are quickly becoming a big deal in barista land, new science has unveiled some surprising connections between the ways in which coffee and cannabis interact with the body.
To keep you in the loop, here are five things you should know about cannabis and coffee:
1. Caffeine engages the endocannabinoid system
Research published in March of 2018 found that coffee consumption had some surprising effects on the endocannabinoid system (ECS).
The ECS is the large neurotransmitter network that is both activated by and named after the cannabis plant.
A neurotransmitter is a chemical compound that allows nerve cells to communicate with each other.
Amazingly, the compounds in the cannabis plant boost neurotransmission in the ECS.
This has an effect on a whole host of bodily functions, including appetite, mood, sleep, and pain systems.
As it turns out, coffee consumption may also have an impact on this system.
Except, unlike cannabis, coffee consumption may dim the endocannabinoid system, causing it to behave in the opposite way compared to cannabis-stimulated effects.
The recent research, conducted by Northwestern University, discovered that those people who drank four to eight cups of coffee a day showed markedly decreased levels of endocannabinoid metabolites in their blood.
Metabolites are break-down products that occur when the body intakes certain compounds and excretes the leftovers.
According to Dr. Marylin Cornelis, lead study author and assistant professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, the lack of ECS metabolites indicate that drinking too much coffee is stressful.
“The increased coffee consumption over the two-month span of the trial may have created enough stress to trigger a decrease in metabolites in this system,” explains Cornelis.
“It could be our bodies’ adaptation to try to get stress levels back to equilibrium.”
2. Coffee and cannabis are both rich sources of antioxidants
The impact of caffeine on the ECS may be why combining coffee and cannabis is so appealing.
Research over decades has shown that caffeine can produce both positive and negative effects on the human body.
The aforementioned Northwestern research is a potential indicator that adding a little cannabis to your espresso may feel pleasant because of the balancing effects that one substance has upon another.
Yet, there are other reasons why there’s so much interest in mixing the two botanical creations.
While both cannabis and coffee have bittersweet reputations, the two plants are also abundant sources of antioxidants.
In fact, past research indicates that coffee is one of the biggest sources of antioxidants across the globe, as it is consumed more widely and unanimously than just about any other antioxidant-rich food.
Antioxidants are compounds that counteract oxidative stress in the body.
So, while the Northwestern study indicates that high doses of coffee may contribute to stress, the common morning elixir also contains nutrients that protect cells from damage from stress.
Fascinatingly, cannabis compounds are also potent antioxidants. Certain cannabis components may actually be more powerful antioxidants than vitamins C and E.
The two plants together? Seems like an antioxidant-rich superfood in the making.
3. Coffee may enhance the psychostimulant effects of THC
While there may be some potential benefits to combining cannabis and coffee, such as increased antioxidant intake, some scientists also believe that the two plants together may enhance each other in some ways.
Research conducted by Dr. Sergi Ferre, a senior researcher for the National Institutes on Drug Abuse (NIDA), tested the effects of combining THC with a caffeine-like drug in squirrel monkeys.
The study found that THC and the caffeine-like drug both stimulated the production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure.
When the two compounds were used together, dopamine was enhanced to a greater extent.
As reported by Live Science, this lead Ferre to suggest that caffeine may enhance the psychostimulant effects of THC.
Ferre explained, “Caffeine increases tremendously the effects of a psychostimulant, including THC and cocaine.”
“So, any substance that releases dopamine, including THC, its effects are increased by caffeine.”
This means that consuming high THC cannabis and caffeine together may result in a stronger experience.
However, this may also mean that mixing the two means that you need less of either substance to feel a boost in mood and attention.
Yet, it’s important to mention that Ferre also has doubts about whether these two plants are good to mix.
He expressed concern that mixing the two consistently may make it more difficult to give either plant up in the future.
4. Caffeine may protect against cannabis-induced memory loss
While fish certainly aren’t humans, a 2015 study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology found that caffeine may protect against some of the memory impairments caused by high doses of cannabidiol (CBD).
CBD is a non-intoxicating component of cannabis plants. While some cannabis cultivars feature low levels of this compound (around 0.1 percent), other types of cannabis produce over 20 percent CBD.
Recently, CBD oils and isolates are being used in high doses to treat various medical conditions, including epilepsy and chronic pain.
However, high doses of CBD may cause some people to feel forgetful.
The zebrafish study found that long-term caffeine treatment prevented the potentially negative effects of CBD on memory.
Of course, like most cannabis studies, it’s unclear whether or not these effects would also apply to the human body.
Still, the finding that the two compounds may interact with each other in a positive manner is intriguing.
5. CBD may decrease caffeine-induced anxiety
If the interaction between cannabis and coffee weren’t already interesting enough, mixing your next cup of joe with a little CBD may create a more mild-mannered experience.
CBD and caffeine have opposite actions on certain cell receptors in the brain called the adenosine receptors.
Adenosine is a neurotransmitter with a calming effect on the nervous system.
In fact, fluctuations in adenosine tell you when its time to wake up and when its time to fall asleep at night.
Unlike CBD, caffeine blocks adenosine receptors from responding to the neurotransmitter.
As a result, you feel more alert and less calm.
CBD, however, binds to adenosine receptors and allows greater concentrates of adenosine to be used by brain cells.
Cannabidiol’s effect on adenosine receptors may contribute to its calming and anxiolytic effects.
While more research on mixing caffeine and CBD is needed, the opposing actions of these two compounds may explain the mellow and energized feeling many people report after sipping on a freshly brewed pot of CBD-infused coffee.