How do you start your morning? For so many Americans, the answer is the same: with a hot cup of coffee. We’re a caffeine-loving nation, where 83% of adults drink coffee regularly.
Still, while a good, old cup of joe is the norm, a new morning trend is emerging—a coffee and cannabis blend. This pairing makes a lot of sense to those who enjoy both regularly: While coffee energizes, cannabis relaxes. People report cannabis mellows out the buzz and jitters that sometimes come with coffee. And it adds something extra, helping them focus even more than with just java alone.
But what do we really know about this potent combination? New research suggests that these two substances may have unexpected interactions. And instead of complementing each other, coffee and cannabis may actually be working in opposition.
A new study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine looked more closely at the chemical effects of drinking coffee and found a surprising result. Coffee affects the same system as cannabis does: the endocannabinoid system (ECS). But marijuana and coffee have opposite effects on the ECS.
The ECS is a crucial part of the human body, regulating things like our immune system, mood, memory and perception of pain. We have natural chemicals in our bodies called endocannabinoids, which activate this system. Natural plant cannabinoids, like many of the compounds found in cannabis, can also activate this system of receptors.
For patients with endocannabinoid deficiencies, many issues can arise like problems with the immune system, chronic pain conditions or depression and anxiety. For these patients, cannabis can be a life-saver, boosting activation of the ECS and restoring its vital functions.
Interestingly, this new study found that coffee also exerts an effect on the ECS. Unfortunately, it’s in the other direction—coffee when consumed in large amounts was found to suppress the body's natural endocannabinoids.
Specifically, those in the study who drank four to eight cups of coffee per day saw their endocannabinoid levels drop. The specific endocannabinoids that were reduced were consistent with those that decrease during times of stress.
While researchers didn’t look at how these chemical changes made participants feel, they hypothesized that the coffee might be leading to increased stress. Whether that stress is a direct result of the endocannabinoid suppression, or the endocannabinoid suppression is a result of the stress, is something that’s still in question.
Researchers are still questioning the implications of this study, as much more research is needed to fully understand the tie between these two substances. Still, they’re hypothesizing that there could be an interaction between coffee and cannabis—but what those effects might be are still unknown.
Given that drinking several cups of coffee can cause the suppression of endocannabinoids, those consuming cannabis should keep this in mind. It’s entirely possible that drinking coffee with your marijuana might be making the plant less effective. After all, marijuana works by increasing endocannabinoids. This is what provides its positive effects that we know and rely on.
Since coffee can suppress those same endocannabinoids, it’s reasonable to worry that coffee and cannabis might be working against each other. Combining the two may decrease cannabis’s positive effects, or it could mean you need much more of the plant to create the same effects.
It’s also important to understand coffee’s suppressive role on the ECS if you’re consuming cannabis medicinally. If you already have symptoms or conditions that respond well to cannabis, it’s likely that you’re one of those who already has an underactive ECS. Drinking a lot of coffee could cause further problems by suppressing your endocannabinoids even more.
On the other hand, if you’re a big coffee drinker and don’t see yourself giving up your brew any time soon, adding cannabis to the mix could potentially help fight against the low endocannabinoid levels caused by your coffee habit. This may help ease the heightened stress response that’s all too common among coffee drinkers.
While all of these possibilities make sense with what we know, chemical interactions are complicated. More research needs to be done to fully understand the possibilities. Until we look at what happens in the human body when these two substances are actually taken together, we can’t say for sure how they will interact.
One thing we do know is that coffee and cannabis can have opposite effects on the ECS. If you’re combining the two, proceed with caution and pay attention to how your coffee/cannabis combination makes you feel so you can tweak it to fit your needs.
Photo credit: Nathan Dumlao