Science Lesson: Addictive Properties Of Coffee And Cannabis May Go Hand-In-Hand


A lot of marijuana users will tell you that when they smoke a sativa strain, it gives them the same “high” as a cup of coffee would. While many opponents of legalization argue that marijuana is much worse, what many fail to recognize is that both coffee and marijuana are derived from plants that contain compounds which when broken down, cause very similar physiological reactions. Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D. is a Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience & Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics at the Ohio State University and Medical Center, a Fellow by the American Association for the Advancement of Science for distinguished contributions in the field of neuropharmacology, neurodegenerative diseases and neuroinflammatory processes. He contributed a blog in the Oxford University Press that attempts to further prove the above statement.

So does coffee actually enhance marijuana? A study published recently in the Journal of Neuroscience by neuroscientists from the Integrative Neurobiology Section of the National Institute on Drug Abuse found the answer to that question—sort of: Yes, No, and it depends. That said, the research did give some insight into “the workings of the brain, and why humans find coffee and marijuana so enjoyable. Their euphoric effects might be related to each other.”

The scientists initially used monkeys who were addicted to THC and were allowed to give themselves as much or little of THC they wanted. When drugs like caffeine were incorporated, the monkeys either increased or decreased their THC, so the scientists wanted to know why that was happening.

Here comes the science: Caffeine has only one known action in the brain; it blocks the neurotransmitter receptor for the chemical adenosine. Adenosine receptors live on both sides of synapses. A synapse is the connection between one neuron and the next. So, adenosine receptors are involved in controlling both sides of the synapse. What the scientists found was that blocking the presynaptic adenosine receptors caused the monkeys to stop self-administering THC. In contrast, blocking the post-synaptic adenosine receptors caused the monkeys to increase their self-administration of THC.

The problem is that coffee can’t tell the difference between a pre- or post-synaptic adenosine receptor. The results of the study found that low doses of caffeine should decrease marijuana self-administration and that high doses of caffeine will increase marijuana self-administration. What they didn’t understand was whether drinking lots of coffee will enhance the marijuana euphoria.

This study was in relation to another study from a group of scientists from Rome who looked at the possibility that coffee’s addictive properties also involve the brain’s marijuana-like neurotransmitter system. When they were taken together, they were able to find how long term coffee addiction develops in the brain. The scientists concluded that “when you first started drinking coffee, the arousal was all you wanted and also all that you got. Still, being more attentive and vigilant was all you needed to get through the day. Ultimately, due to tolerance, you needed more and more coffee each day to achieve the same level of arousal and vigilance. While all of this was occurring, something else far more mysterious was happening inside your brain; caffeine had begun stimulating your brain’s endogenous marijuana neurotransmitter system. These biochemical adjustments make avoiding that third or fourth cup of coffee even harder to accomplish.”

So, high doses of coffee make us feel so good because it taps into “virtually every reward system our brain has evolved.” And most importantly, coffee contains a chemical that has taken over your brain by mimicking the actions of marijuana.


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