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Stoned Plus Buzzed: Mixing Caffeine and Pot Brings New Risks

Eighty percent of Americans get a daily jolt from caffeine, and now, as marijuana legalization has spread across the nation, some users and businesses have begun touting a combination of the two drugs.

“After years of smoking, I’ve found that caffeine and weed are a perfect mix. If I get nicely stoned then drink a strong cup of coffee, the effects mix so perfectly,” wrote one Reddit user.

A company called Cannabiniers recently tapped into the trend with the launch of Brewbudz, which are cannabis-infused coffee, tea and cocoa pods that pop into any Keurig coffee brewer. [25 Odd Facts About Marijuana]

But what happens when you combine the drugs, and are there possible dangers?

It’s important to keep in mind that the caffeine in a regular cup of coffee or tea is a pretty powerful psychoactive drug, meaning it’s capable of affecting the mind, emotions and behavior, Dr. Sergi Ferre, a senior investigator at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), told Live Science.

Caffeine exerts its effects by blocking receptors in the brain for a neurotransmitter called adenosine, Ferre told Live Science. Adenosine is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, meaning that it blocks other neurotransmitters that excite the neurons; its activity thus leads to feelings of fatigue. So, by blocking adenosine, caffeine changes peoples’ moods and leaves them feeling more alert and awake.

Caffeine is also known to boost another neurotransmitter: dopamine, Ferre said. This neurotransmitter is often called the “feel-good” chemical, because it’s responsible for feelings of pleasure and reward. It just so happens that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, is also known to stimulate dopamine neurons throughout the brain, he said.

Indeed, one reason why people may like the combination of marijuana and caffeine so much is that caffeine can magnify the effects of dopamine released by marijuana.

“Caffeine increases tremendously the effects of a psychostimulant, including THC and cocaine,” Ferre said. “So, any substance that releases dopamine, including THC, its effects are increased by caffeine.”

Magnified marijuana

That enhancement may be why more people are combining the drugs, but Ferre cautioned that doing so is a bad idea. Using caffeine with any psychostimulant drug, and enhancing the drug’s high, can make the drug much more addictive than it would be if it was used alone, he said. [7 Ways Marijuana May Affect the Brain]

Ferre and colleagues published a 2014 study in The Journal of Neuroscience that tested the effects of combining THC with a compound called MSX-3 that mimics some of the effects of caffeine. In experiments on squirrel monkeys that were addicted to THC, the researchers measured whether a range of doses of the caffeine-like compound influenced the monkey’s likelihood to give themselves more hits of THC.

The researchers concluded that the caffeine-like compound enhanced the effects of THC at any dose.

Caffeine “is not good, at any dose, to associate with THC,” Ferre said.

Another cause for concern is that adding caffeine may worsen the memory impairment commonly associated with using marijuana, he said.

A 2012 study in rats, also by Ferre and colleagues, showed that combining caffeine with marijuana worsened the memory problems induced. The effect is likely to be particularly acute in teens, because their brains are still developing, Ferre said.

“The worst is with kids,” Ferre said. “Caffeine can be a really powerful drug that can have strong effects on a developing brain.”

Questions remain

Although Ferre’s research presents significant warning flags about combining caffeine with marijuana, not all experts agree. [Marijuana Could Treat These 5 Conditions]

In general, there is not much research on marijuana and its effects, said Gary Wenk, a professor of psychology, neurology and molecular virology at the Ohio State University. Marijuana is classified as a Schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning the drug is considered to have a high potential for abuse and no medical use.

“There has been very little research, because there is a lack of funding,” Wenk told Live Science. “The National Institute on Drug Abuse does some research, but it’s all related to treatment or determining ways it’s harmful. But otherwise, it’s hard to get funded, because it’s a Schedule 1 drug.”

Despite the lack of research on marijuana’s effects, an increasing number of Americans are using the drug. Currently, around one-fifth of Americans now live in states where marijuana is legal for adults to use recreationally, according to the Brookings Institution, and some 200 million live in places where it’s legal to use the drug for medical reasons.

Aside from being cautious, in recognition of what research there is on the effects of combining caffeine and marijuana, Wenk said that users are, to some extent, on their own.

“When people ask, ‘How will it affect me?’ you have to ask, ‘What are your genes? What are your vulnerabilities?'” Wenk said. “Combining the drugs will have a different effect on different people, so it can be hard to predict.”

As marijuana use becomes more common, so may using the drug together with caffeine. But what do we know about the health effects of mixing weed and a cup of joe?

Giving up smoking

Cannabis, alcohol and coffee and smoking

Cannabis

Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK. People we spoke with about their smoking often mentioned smoking cannabis. When asked, other people said that they hadn’t ever tried it, didn’t like it, or preferred not to talk about their use of an illegal substance.

Cannabis occurs naturally – it is made from the cannabis plant. Its main active chemical is tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC for short) and it can make people feel chilled out, happy and content, but sometimes causes them to feel paranoid and can lead them to hallucinate. Cannabis has been linked to long-term and serious mental health problems, including psychotic illnesses, especially if there is a family history of mental health problems. People we spoke to had smoked different kinds of cannabis product such as hash (cannabis resin), grass or weed (dried leaves and flowers of the cannabis plant) or skunk sometimes also referred to as grass or weed (one of the first varieties of hydroponically* produced cross-breeds which produce a much higher concentration of THC). Cannabis can be smoked on its own, in a pipe, or mixed with tobacco. Research has shown that cannabis has more toxins than tobacco, although it is typically smoked in smaller quantities than tobacco. The jury is still out as to whether cannabis or tobacco is more carcinogenic.

Tom smoked a lot of weed at university with a disparate group of guys who were a bit competitive about using really strong varieties.

Tom smoked a lot of weed at university with a disparate group of guys who were a bit competitive about using really strong varieties.

Thinking about smoking weed, how would you smoke? Would you smoke hash? Would you smoke grass? Or…

Both, all of the above. Kind of whatever was available and I could afford. I think there, there was definitely a point, particularly at university where it was almost like… I guess that you get, you get a drinking culture with some groups of lads and stuff where it’s all about how much you can drink, and how much strong drink you can drink, all that sort of stuff, and we kind of did the same thing with cannabis. We were very experimental with it in university, making contraptions and all sorts of things and getting really strong skunk and stuff, that, I hadn’t smoked that before I went to uni, the stuff we used to get back home was kind of, pretty bog standard resin and crappy weed that was mostly twigs and seeds. So I hadn’t really come across the really strong stuff. But, yeah, there was definitely a kind of, there was a bit of a, like lads get competitive with drinking, there was a little bit of that with how caned can we get and still stand up and have a conversation and… yeah. So no, it was everything. Whatever was going, and people we used to buy stuff off, would often say ‘oh we’ve got this, this and this,’ you know, so we’d try a little bit of various things. I, I guess at first I didn’t mind what it was. I probably preferred the stronger stuff, ‘cause it was a cheaper way to get caned, ‘cause you didn’t need as much of it. But then later on I didn’t, I kind of went off the really strong stuff. It was just a bit too much. I liked, like normal weed that wasn’t skunk, and there’s, what I particularly liked was like polleny hash, so kind of quite nice resin that went really fluffy when you made a joint with it. That was my favourite thing. Because it was a slightly different kind of buzz that you got off that, than you got off skunk and weed and things.

So sort of going back to the conversation we had about school kids and so on. Which groups of people at university smoked weed?

It seemed for a while that it was everybody, yeah. And our group was kind of, we were, like at school we all were into the same music, went to the same places, you know, liked the same TV shows, all that sort of stuff. Then at uni we were a bit more of a kind of disparate group, ‘cause you are thrown together a bit. I guess, in some ways we were very similar, like does tend to gravitate to like I suppose, especially when you get thrown together at uni.

But I mean, looking at how all those guys have turned out, and different lives that we’ve had, we didn’t really have that much more in common than we liked each other’s company and particularly liked getting caned with each other. There was a guy that was, that played rugby, there was a guy that had, he was like he was a bit of a mystical figure because he’d had a gap year, you know, not many people had gap years in those days. And he’d been to India and come back with kind of really exotic smoking paraphernalia, and he had long hair and big side burns, and we thought he was cool. And then there was people like me, that liked football and getting caned, and yeah. So I guess we didn’t really have a group identity as such, which, yeah, because there wasn’t any particular thing that sort of made us the same, other than, you know, yeah like I said, we enjoyed each other’s company and we all liked getting stoned.

Abdul was a chain smoker and smoked a lot of cannabis at university and particularly after his father died. The effect on his lungs was ‘really bad’.

Abdul was a chain smoker and smoked a lot of cannabis at university and particularly after his father died. The effect on his lungs was ‘really bad’.

But prior to that my health had pretty much deteriorated. I wasn’t in a awful state, there were a lot of people well worse than me, but I knew my lungs were in a bad state, because I’d spent most of uni, the know the time at uni I was a chain smoker and I was smoking a lot of cannabis as well. And that degree of smoking continued when I returned to Birmingham, so I was chain smoking then, and rolling tobacco one after the other. And if I managed to get hold of, you know, by this time when I returned as well, I was well prepared to get my own sort of little kind, as you call it a stash of cannabis and keep it and smoke that. And I’d kind of like smoke loads of that until it until it knocked me out really, so yes.

So how you smoke, did you smoke spliffs or …?

Yes, yes, yes. I smoked yes, yes, yes.

Was it skunk or…?

There was a lot of that going round. I didn’t do much of that when I was at university. I mean strangely enough there was a period where, before I returned to Birmingham that was cut out, but it was mainly because I didn’t know where to get the supply from. You know, I ended up in parts of the country where we didn’t know enough people or we didn’t know where to… So there was a period where I didn’t do that. But when I returned, pick up with very good friends, where I rejoined my friends and they were doing it. I mean, obviously, this was, I’d been smoking at uni anyway, but there was, once I’d finished my undergraduate degree, the period between that and 2002 before I returned, I didn’t have much of that. But when I returned I got back into it again. Spliffs. You know, you get your stash, hang out with your friends, or on your own, whichever way really.

And there was a period when, when my Dad died where I ended up doing quite a lot. There was a lot of skunk going around, you know, and that became the prevailing thing, just because it was so easily available. And did that and over the four or five, four years, five years that I did that, kind of really messed up my kind of outlook on the world, because it just disables you really, you know. You can’t function. So I did that. Then decided right enough of that, no more. I’ve got to get on with life and then I sort of cut that out, but I was still smoking weed. But I could tell all along the impact on my lungs was really bad. Because I was chain smoking, you know, rolling tobacco, cigarettes and then chain smoking pot whenever I got that. So yes.

Jules smoked a lot of dope in his early 20s. He preferred the ‘peaceful’ effect to the louder and more aggressive environment of the pub.

Jules smoked a lot of dope in his early 20s. He preferred the ‘peaceful’ effect to the louder and more aggressive environment of the pub.

What made me want to smoke dope I’ve got no idea apart from it being a social thing. I became, I mean Cornwall was, that was probably sort of when I was 20, 21, 22. I used to go down there. Basically just to doss and do what I wanted to do. No real, no real purpose to life at all. And you still have holiday jobs and then out of season you used to just go home and do what you wanted to do. Smoking dope seems to have been part of it.

And dope then became what alcohol had been I’d moved away from North Wales where I was sort of one of the lads down the pub, every Friday, Saturday, Sunday playing pool for a pub team. And I moved away from that and sort of, I don’t know, if I’d continued that I probably would have had a drink problem as well. But then I started smoking dope as a replacement. And it was a nice feeling, relaxed. I liked the fact that there was no aggression when people smoked, you know, there was with alcohol. And it seemed a much more sort of peaceful way of just living your life, rather than this racu. this loud, this loud pub environment. And this was just ego sort of affected by alcohol.

So yes, it just seemed a good thing to do at the time. And it became a habit. And you know, the consequence of is that there’s a lot, a lot of my life that I don’t actually remember. It’s, I don’t know, if I went back I’d probably still do exactly the same. So I’ve got no real regrets. I enjoyed all of my time, which I find quite weird when someone sort of says can you remember when we were 60 whatever it was, and we did this, I can’t remember. I mean it wouldn’t have been 60, it or 80 whatever, but I can’t actually remember that. I vaguely remember being somewhere but I don’t actually remember. I remember concerts I went to but I don’t actually remember the concert. I remember going to the concert at Milton Keynes Bowl and REM, but I don’t actually remember who else was playing. I don’t remember, I just remember sort of having a ticket and going. It might have been a dream. It’s, I can’t remember, I don’t how the hell to describe it. You know that you did something but you can’t remember what you did. I sort of vaguely remember a couple of the people I would have gone with, but who else I would have gone with, who I spoke to while I was at the gig, it’s weird.

Anna had stopped smoking cigarettes, but then started smoking dope with friends and drifted back to tobacco.

Anna had stopped smoking cigarettes, but then started smoking dope with friends and drifted back to tobacco.

I then discovered that, if you haven’t smoked for a while and you have a cigarette, it makes you feel quite ill, just like it does when you first…so I used to have this thing, where I’d think okay I want a cigarette now, but actually I can’t have what I’m craving, because if I have that first cigarette it’s going to taste vile, so I’m like, you know, I actually don’t get what I want as a result of, you know, I can’t, it’s actually totally impossible for me to satisfy this craving at this point in time. All I can do is get hooked and then satisfy it in about a week’s time, but that doesn’t, sort of defeats the object. So I think that was kind of, that was what stopped me, you know, having serious relapses.

But then I moved back home and I remember, I mean I think I sort of keep thinking it was probably like, it was a similar sort of thing to why I started smoking in the first place, I think people feel really put out that I wouldn’t smoke dope. So it was sort of like, okay, well, you know, just to make you feel better I will have a bit of it, so you won’t feel quite as stupid. And then, but obviously there was nicotine involved in smoking. And then I think that kind of turned in, turned into a thing where I then started to crave the nicotine again and then, you know, slowly but surely, I kind of could get what I wanted straight away, because I was used to smoking nicotine again. And I sort of drifted back into it. But gave up again. I think I just I think I might have re-read, did I re-read the book or maybe it was just sort of …

Tom remembered trying to do everyday tasks, such as going to the bank or doing supermarket shopping, while stoned, and later smoking cannabis to cope with a boring job.

Tom remembered trying to do everyday tasks, such as going to the bank or doing supermarket shopping, while stoned, and later smoking cannabis to cope with a boring job.

I think throughout we still kind of managed to go to lectures and do the stuff that we had to do, but it was a daily thing. Some days if I didn’t have lectures, it would be a breakfast thing. Some days, if I knew I didn’t have to be up in the morning before I went to bed the previous night I’d roll a joint and put it by my bed so I could wake up and smoke it. That’s really rank isn’t it? I’d wake up and smoke it straight away. Yeah, so it was all times of day, all, all occasions. Probably tell because I’m smiling, I’m thinking about it. It was sort of ridiculous at times. And I think there, this was part of the competitive thing as well, what kind of normal activity can you do while you’re really caned? [Laughs]. Going into the bank and performing some sort of transaction in the bank, can you do that? Can you go to Asda and do the big shop while you’re caned, kind of thing. Because it was partly about doing it and then partly about being able to tell the story about it afterwards I suppose. But it was ridiculous, and we were sort of in an experimental phase with it I suppose. But, and then later on, it just kind of, it became more like, you know, some people get home from work and have a drink, and I get home from work and roll a spliff. And do a bit more of it at weekends. But yeah, certainly at uni there was a point at which yeah, you certainly didn’t need an excuse.

I was going to say how did it change when you were working and you were saying you got caned to cope with a boring job?

Well, yeah, this is partly, this is partly kind of I guess, wrapped up a little bit in the personal relationship that I had, the guy that I lived with. ‘Cause we’d met in, we met at work, and we then ended up kind of. for various reasons he he’d split up with a girlfriend and he was looking for a place to live. The shared house I was in, people were going their separate ways, and I had got to the point where I thought, it would be quite nice to just live with one other person. And so I, we moved into a flat together, so we worked the same hours, in the same job, we lived in the same place, you know, we were like, completely living the same life the whole time. And he liked to get caned, so did I. But we had to both get up for work and stuff. So then it kind of became we’d, we’d both looked forward to it at the end of the day, and then kind of, when you’re in a shit job, it takes you a while to realise how shit your job is I think sometimes. But then ‘cause we had each other to kind of remind each other how shit it was, that kind of, that really sort of reinforced it probably for both of us, and it got to a point where it moved from being like ‘oh yeah, in a couple of hours we can go home and have a spliff, brilliant’ to kind of like ‘oh fucking roll on half past four.’ Do you know what I mean? And ‘oh I’ve got to get home, and I’ve got to get caned and stop thinking about this stupid job.’ I don’t know how it would have been different if I had been just me doing the shit job, or whether I’d have left it earlier. Yeah, I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about that, but that, yeah weirdly after we’d, after we moved out of that flat and he, I’m trying to think what he did after that, I think, yeah, he moved into another shared flat, and I moved in with my girlfriend, and we kind of we barely spoke for about two years after that. It had been a really intense relationship. We spent all our time in each other’s company pretty much apart from when we went out different places. All day at work, every evening at home and stuff. So yeah, I think there was, it was partly about the job where it changed, and just kind of partly about just kind of growing up a bit more I suppose.

Giving up smoking Cannabis, alcohol and coffee and smoking Cannabis Cannabis is the most widely used illegal drug in the UK. People we spoke with about their smoking often mentioned