THC & Caffeine: Synergy or Side Effects?
THC, the primary active compound in cannabis, has profound and multifaceted effects. Caffeine, a common stimulant, is just as potent but is more straightforward in its neurochemistry. It is becoming more common for average people to use the two compounds together, making it important to ask pertinent questions such as:
1. Do THC and caffeine interact?
2. If so, is the interaction positive?
3. Could a negative interaction between THC and caffeine be to blame for commonly reported THC side effects?
4. Could using THC and caffeine cause paranoia?
In this review of the available research, we will examine recent studies and provide commentary on the comparative benefits and detractors of using THC and caffeine together. Along the way, we’ll also look at cannabis as a whole to determine if other cannabinoids might be better suited for your morning routine.
Using THC & caffeine together: An overview
Let’s begin with a brief overview of the science on caffeine and THC that has been published so far:
1. A 2012 study found that caffeine worsens memory impairment caused by THC
2. A 2014 study tentatively suggests that caffeine may enhance the THC high
3. A 2017 study found that animals treated with both caffeine and THC showed higher levels of G-6-PDH, an enzyme that prevents cellular damage
4. According to a 2023 study, using CBD and caffeine together does not appear to lead to any significant interactions
5. CBD may even reduce attenuation to caffeine that leads to dependence, another 2023 study found
We’ll discuss the implications of these studies as we continue. It is recommended that you review each of the pieces of published scientific literature linked above to gain a full grasp of the subject material.
Pharmacokinetics of THC
THC primarily acts at the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain, the two neurochemical sites identified as having the most affinity with this primary cannabis compound. Most cannabinoids, including THC, are metabolized by CYP3A4 enzymes produced in the liver, which groundbreaking 2023 research shows are also used in the metabolism of caffeine.
Pharmacokinetics of caffeine
Caffeine does not appear to directly interact with the primary components of the endocannabinoid system. Instead, this stimulant mostly activates a class of adenosine receptors called GPCRs, leading to an increase of overall cortical activity users feel as a sense of alertness or focus. Caffeine also increases heart rate and can constrict blood vessels when ingested in high doses.
Any chemical pathways by which THC and caffeine directly interact are not immediately apparent and will require further research to fully delineate. It is worth remembering that cannabis is a massively complex plant of which THC is only one constituent part. Synergies between caffeine and THC products may actually be attributed to interactions between caffeine and the terpenes and flavonoids that share space alongside THC in many cannabis products.
The only obvious way in which THC and caffeine interact is by seemingly boosting each other’s effects. Any time that two compounds fight for the same enzyme to be processed out of the body, levels of both compounds are temporarily raised until the increased load is lifted. With dangerous drugs that shouldn’t accumulate in your system beyond prescribed doses, this fact of biochemistry can become a dangerous reality for some individuals.
With THC and caffeine, competition over CYP enzymes will usually be felt as a mild boosting of the effects of both compounds. In the next section, though, we will discuss the potential experiential detractors of using cannabis and caffeine together, neurochemistry aside.
Core question: Is it bad to mix THC and caffeine?
So far, we’ve learned that THC and caffeine might boost each other by competing over digestive enzymes, and caffeine might interact with the other compounds present alongside THC in cannabis in any number of ways. Are there any other factors we should consider when determining if THC and caffeine should be mixed?
Let’s move away from discussions of chemistry for a moment to briefly discuss the common experienced effects associated with both THC and caffeine. In the case of THC, unique distortions of sensory perception are often noted, commonly marked by heightened anxiety in new users or those who ingest a dose higher than that to which they are accustomed.
Caffeine, for its part, can lead to an increase of energy so great that it can even become agitating for many users. Irritability and intense reactions to normal stimuli are commonly noted when caffeine is used.
Couple the irritability and irrationality associated with caffeine use with the sensory distortion and heightened anxiety commonly noted as side effects of THC, and you can start to see how the two substances might not always interact beneficially. Caffeine can heighten the anxiety caused by THC and turn it into anger or paranoia, and cannabis can take the agitation caused by caffeine and combine it with distorted perceptions to color reality with a nightmarish quality.
Potential side effects of using THC and caffeine together
Those with high tolerances to both substances may not note any side effects at all when using THC and caffeine at the same time. Individuals who have not developed tolerances to either psychoactive compound, however, may experience side effects including but not limited to:
1. Increased paranoia
2. Heightened anxiety
3. Delusional perceptions
4. Fits of rage
5. Mental fog
6. Misunderstanding familiar situations
Does combining THC and caffeine cause paranoia?
Yes, it appears that one of the most prominent side effects of using THC and caffeine at the same time is increased paranoia. The exact biochemistry behind this negative synergy is not yet fully clear, but enough anecdotal evidence has amassed to seriously consider the validity of reports suggesting negative effects might increase when THC and caffeine are used together.
THC & caffeine side effects: What should you do?
If you want to avoid the increased side effects that can occur when THC and caffeine are used together, there are a few options at your disposal:
1. Only use THC and caffeine separately: You might just need to only use one at a time.
2. Use a different cannabinoid with caffeine: CBD, for instance, doesn’t appear to have any negative interactions with caffeine.
3. Develop experience with both substances: Having a tolerance to both THC and caffeine will lessen the intensity of their combined effects.
4. Try a different strain of cannabis: The terpenes and flavonoids in specific cannabis strains can also interact negatively with caffeine.
5. Try a different type of caffeinated drink: Coffee has a very different chemical makeup from an energy drink, for instance.
For the average user, combining cannabis and caffeine will never result in any negative effects. If you’re having a hard time with either THC or caffeine, however, it might be worthwhile to examine how each compound is affecting your life — both separately and together.
Usually, all that’s needed is a rebalancing, not a total discarding of either substance. Take a close look at how both cannabis and caffeine are affecting you, and rebalance your routine as necessary.
Cannabis & caffeine FAQs
Learn more about the delicate balance between cannabis and caffeine below:
Is it bad to mix CBD and caffeine?
Both in scientific studies and in anecdotal evidence, CBD does not appear to have any negative interactions with caffeine. This non-intoxicating cannabinoid might even lessen some of the negative effects associated with caffeine use.
Can THC be added to coffee?
Yes, there do not appear to be any dangers associated with combining THC and coffee that are compelling enough to avoid the practice altogether. Just be aware that some users report negative effects when combining caffeine and cannabis.
Should you drink coffee with edibles?
There’s probably no reason you shouldn’t drink coffee after taking cannabis edibles. It might be a good idea to wait a while and see how the edibles affect you, however, before adding caffeine into the mix.