Coffee and Cannabis: How Caffeine and CBD Impact the Brain
For a lot of people, a cup of Colombian coffee is the only way to start the morning and get through the work day. Others may feel that smoking marijuana or using cannabidiol oil is the best way to unwind after a long shift. While the chemical components of caffeine and CBD have different effects on the brain, is it possible they’re more closely related than we thought?
This is your brain on caffeine
Despite the fact that Americans are drinking more coffee than ever, it hasn’t always been a popular beverage amongst medical professionals and scientific researchers. Not long ago, coffee was thought to be responsible for a host of negative effects on the body. It was blamed for high blood pressure, sleep impairments, and even cancer development.
But that’s all changed. The World Health Organization has removed coffee from its potential carcinogen list and multiple studies have discovered that moderate coffee consumption can be extremely beneficial. In fact, it’s now been linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and certain cancers. It’s also been associated with a lower risk of death overall. In other words, drinking a couple cups of coffee per day could help you live longer.
Studies have also found coffee consumption could help to safeguard the brain. It can boost our concentration and memory, of course, but research also shows that drinking coffee can lower your risk of dementia development.
There’s actually a lot going on in the brain when you drink your daily cup of java. Caffeine binds to the brain’s receptors for adenosine —a chemical that makes us tired—and keeps that chemical from doing its thing. Subsequently, it keeps us awake and focused. It also prevents dopamine from being absorbed into the body. The upside of this is you’ll probably feel happy for a longer period; the downside is that this is precisely what makes caffeine so addicting.
Of course, there can be too much of a good thing. If you’ve ever had one too many cups of the black stuff, you’ll probably know that it can make you anxious and jittery. And while it can improve mental performance in some cases, it can be tough for even seasoned coffee drinkers to strike the right balance 100% of the time.
The benefits of cannabis for the brain and body
Thus far, 29 states (plus the District of Columbia) have legalized medical marijuana. And if you’ve ever read up on marijuana growing laws in Colorado, you’ll know that recreational pot use is now legal there and in nine other states. The growing public acceptance of marijuana use is palpable, with 84% of Americans believing it should be legal for medical purposes and 61% of the nation saying it should be legal to use recreationally.
There’s scientific evidence to back up this support. The two chemical components of marijuana are tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC is the component that provides the high, but it’s also responsible for pain relief. It’s frequently used to treat chronic pain, muscle spasms, and seizures. It’s also been found to be helpful in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s and even stopping the spread of cancer. CBD, which is now readily available in oil and edible forms around the country, produces no effect of a high, but has been shown to have an impact on the brain. It’s thought to be a good option for those with anxiety, trauma, depression, and even migraines.
CBD specifically targets a serotonin receptor in the brain, meaning it has an effect on the release of cortisol and oxytocin, which are feel-good chemicals that can help reduce stress and change social behaviors. The ways in which CBD works in the brain are rather complex, but a lot of individuals anecdotally have experienced positive effects as a result of their use.
What’s the connection?
Because someone might drink coffee to boost their energy and apply CBD oil to relax, it’s natural to think that caffeine and cannabinoids have nothing to do with each other. But that might not be totally true. According to the results of a 2017 study, both caffeine and cannabis were found to influence the brain’s enzymes and neurotransmitters, as well as overall brain chemistry. Caffeine and cannabis were both shown to have positive effects on the level of dopamine (the chemical that makes us feel happy and alert) in the brain.
Interestingly enough, another recent study found that increasing one’s coffee consumption by a significant amount may actually alter more metabolites than researchers previously thought. Notably, it can decrease metabolites from the endocannabinoid system, which are responsible for regulating stress, maintaining blood pressure, aiding sleep, providing energy, curbing or boosting appetite, and processing the chemicals found in marijuana.
If that weren’t confusing enough, there’s also CBD coffee on the market. Purportedly, the concoction will give you energy without the jitters, but many experts are skeptical. Though some people swear by it, it’s important to note that both caffeine and CBD have different effects on different people. It’s no miracle cure though, so unless you’re up for a lot of experimentation and can afford to nap on the job, it might be best to keep the two separate for the time being.
While there are some aspects to these two chemicals that work in opposition, there are a couple of things that experts do know. Both caffeine and cannabis can provide a number of mental and physical health benefits when used as directed, and both have a fascinating effect on our brains.