Every bowl needs a cup – how caffeine could offset cannabis side effects

cannabis and caffeine: photo of coffee cup amongst cannabis fan leaves

The wake-and-bake combination of lighting up while enjoying a morning cup of coffee is a common pastime. Connoisseurs lovingly refer to the practice as a “hippy speedball,” recognizing the contradiction of smoking a relaxing joint with a side of an internationally beloved legal stimulant.

A Statista report showed that in 2022 74 percent of Americans started their days with a cup of coffee. Gallup reports that in the same year, 16 percent of Americans self-reported smoking cannabis daily. As the number of Americans who smoke cannabis rises, many may mix caffeine with their cannabinoids.

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When it comes to consuming cannabis alongside caffeine, many keep the two separate, opting to pack a bowl or roll a joint to enjoy alongside a caffeinated beverage. However, some hemp and cannabis brands are taking the leg work out of the experience, offering coffee that contains CBD or other cannabinoids.

Unfortunately, science-based research on how the compounds interact in the human body is somewhat limited despite a wealth of anecdotal evidence for how cannabis and coffee affect the system.

For example, some people add CBD to their coffee to offset the jitters and anxiety common with high caffeine intake. With more caffeinated cannabis products entering the market, readers may be curious about what neurological mechanisms are at play.

Cannabis and caffeine in memory impairment

Animal research shows two different outcomes when assessing how cannabis and coffee impact memory retention. The first study on cannabis and memory was published in 2012 and explored whether caffeine could reduce the force of THC-induced memory loss in rats.

To investigate, researchers gave groups of rats varying amounts of THC and caffeine and then ran them through delayed non-matching to position procedure (DNMP). The original DNMP assessed learning and working memory in dogs.

In this study, DNMP included a system of lights shining through three holes in a pattern that, with the right choice from the rat, ended with a food pellet, tracking how rats remembered the reward cycle.

When the rats ran through the DNMP procedure, researchers learned that caffeine exacerbated THC-induced memory deficits comparable to those seen with higher doses of THC. Though previous scientific papers have shown caffeine to reverse memory impairments associated with sleep deprivation and Alzheimer’s, it may not inhibit memory issues caused by cannabis consumption.

One study on mice showed that long-term CBD treatment may prevent social memory loss in Alzheimer’s patients. But the cannabinoid has also been shown to impair learning and memory, prompting a 2015 research team to investigate whether caffeine could inhibit this unwanted side effect.

Researchers distributed caffeine and 99.9% pure CBD to adult zebrafish before, during, and after an avoidance inhibitory paradigm and anxiety task, where a specific behavior exposed the fish to an unpleasant event. The study tracked how well the animal remembered not to repeat that behavior when given 5mg of CBD at various times throughout the session.

Caffeine effectively prevented memory impairment when distributing CBD after the session, but it was only slightly preventative when given before or during. The study not only indicates that zebrafish have similar responses to CBD as other animals—it also showed that following a specific caffeine regimen could prevent CBD-induced memory loss.

The hippy speedball and the cerebellum

The cerebellum is located in the back of the brain and controls balance, impacting walking, standing, and other complex motor functions. A 2017 paper published in the Journal of Advances in Biology & Biotechnology investigated the independent and combined effects of cannabis and caffeine on the brain using rats.

A controlled model divided 72 rats into six groups who received precisely calculated doses of caffeine, cannabis, neither, or both.. After 21 days on the prescribed regimen, scientists killed the animals to dissect their cerebellum and investigate the impact of the compounds.

Caffeine did not distort or deform the structure of cells in the cerebellum at high or low doses. However, cannabis displayed a damaging effect on the cerebellum that worsened with a higher dosage. Cannabis specifically deforms Purkinje cells essential in performing well-coordinated movement, cognition, and emotion.

The group that received both displayed a preserved cerebellum. It’s important to note that this group received the lowest dose of both caffeine and cannabis.

These results posit that, in combination, caffeine could combat a cannabis-caused hit to motor function and other mechanisms controlled by the cerebellum. Researchers suggest further research and warning be applied to more frequent cannabis use, as that could lead to cerebellum damage.

Given the science, caffeine could combat common side effects of cannabis consumption, like impaired motor function and, in specific circumstances, memory issues. So there may be something to the hippy speedball, especially for the functional stoner who wants to keep up with day-to-day tasks while regularly lighting up.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of GreenState.com and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.