Coffee and cannabis are two of the most widely used psychoactive substances in the world. Whereas cannabis is often consumed to relax the body, enhance perception, and stimulate creativity, coffee – like tea and other caffeinated beverages – is typically used to energize and help people focus, particularly in the face of exhaustion.
Does it make sense to consume cannabis and coffee together? How do they interact? Is it fitting that decriminalized THC-rich cannabis was first sold over-the-counter in Amsterdam’s coffee shops?
More recently, several unregulated cannabis start-ups have begun producing and selling coffee infused with doses of hemp-derived CBD. Are caffeine and cannabidiol truly a good combo, or is this just a clever marketing gimmick?
Caffeine is typically thought of as a mild cognitive enhancer. It increases one’s ability to focus and can improve short term memory. Physiologically, caffeine promotes fat metabolism and wards off sleepiness. These effects are mostly opposite those of THC, which can also help one focus, but briefly impairs short term memory while decreasing fat metabolism.
Caffeine is a stimulant that activates the sympathetic nervous system, which is intrinsic to the basic human stress-response. But THC mitigates many of the effects of stress. Paradoxically, THC can even restore memory in animals impaired by chronic stress. When coffee and cannabis are combined, which effects win out?
Since plant-cannabinoids like THC and CBD weakly inhibit the metabolism of caffeine by blocking an enzyme called CYP1A2, one might expect that caffeine would overpower the cannabinoids.
As it turns out, their interaction is not so straightforward. Caffeine actually amplifies memory impairment caused by THC. And this effect may be specific to short-term memory. To understand how this happens, it’s necessary to look at the neurological properties of these special compounds.
Low & high doses of caffeine
Caffeine has two major biochemical effects. At low doses it blocks adenosine receptors (A1, A2A, and A3). These receptors are typically associated with sleepiness. Adenosine regulates the sleep-wake cycle and regulates the dilation and constriction of blood vessels. The stimulating effects of coffee and tea are due to the inhibition of adenosine receptors. And the headaches that some people experience during caffeine withdrawal are likely due to constriction of blood vessels in the brain.
At higher doses, caffeine inhibits a type of enzyme called a phosphodiesterase (PDE). PDEs break down important chemical messengers that are generated by both cannabinoid and adenosine receptors. These messengers are called cyclic AMP (cAMP) and the related cGMP. They are some of the most common signaling molecules in cells.
PDE enzymes are a target of asthma medications, as well as Viagra.
Adenosine: CB1 gatekeeper
CB1 cannabinoid receptors and A1 adenosine receptors both populate the hippocampus – a region of the brain responsible for many aspects of memory. Short-term memory, in particular, is processed by brief neurological changes in the hippocampus. When hippocampal A1 is highly activated, the efficacy of cannabinoids at CB1 is reduced. THC, endocannabinoids or an experimental synthetic cannabinoid will still be able to activate CB1, but even high doses will produce a smaller effect.
To Read The Rest Of This Article By Adrian Devitt-Lee on The Fresh Toast
Published: May 30, 2018
Founder & Interim Editor of L.A. Cannabis News