APR 23, 2019 5:03 PM PDT

Coffee's Effects on Our Endocannabinoid System

WRITTEN BY: Amy Loriaux

Daily consumption of caffeine is seen as a "normal" addiction, er, habit.  It doesn't seem to pose any deleterious health effects, and, tolerance and withdrawal aside, many people can stay on a daily "maintenance dose" of coffee without any adverse consequences. That common perception, however, may be challenged based on data suggesting that caffeine can affect our newly discovered physiological system: the endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Photo source: Unsplash.com

A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine last year by Dr. Marilyn C. Cornelis and colleagues of Northwestern University studied the metabolome (a profile of metabolites) of 47 habitual coffee consumers across 3 months. For the first month, the study participants were to abstain for coffee (that must have been painful). In the second month, the participants were instructed to drink four cups a day and in the third month, they had to drink eight cups a day. Scientists measured the level of different metabolites in the participants' fasting serum at each month.

The researchers found a total of 115 metabolites associated with coffee intake. These metabolites tend to be associated with a particular biological pathway. The scientists mapped the metabolites to 33 known pathways.  Eighty-two of the 115 metabolites found had already been identified. Researchers observed a significant increase of metabolites related to 5 specific pathways: xanthine metabolism; benzoate metabolism; steroid metabolism; fatty acid metabolism and endocannabinoid metabolism.

These metabolites could be traced back to their sources (for example, xanthine metabolism produces caffeine metabolites). Some were previously unknown to be related to coffee metabolism. For instance, it had not been previously reported that fatty acid metabolism was involved in coffee metabolism. What was especially surprising was the finding of metabolites related to the ECS. What would the ECS have to do with coffee? And what does it mean for the ECS?

Photo source: Unsplash.com

Metabolites related to the ECS decreased in response to coffee consumption. This is despite the fact that caffeine has not been shown to activate common endocannabinoid receptors (CB1 and CB2). However, that fact does not preclude the observed reduction in metabolites related to the ECS. One thing to keep in mind, though, is that there is something else that decreases ECS function: chronic stress. What does this have to do with coffee?

Caffeine can induce a stress response in some individuals. The ECS is thought to maintain several biological and psychological processes, and stress is one of them. Prolonged stress can decrease the function of the ECS. So, is there a coffee-stress-ECS connection? This is probably an overly simplistic interpretation of the data. In fact, stress appears to have a bidirectional effect on the production of certain endocannabinoids. Stress can increase the production of the endocannabinoid anandamide but decrease the production of 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG). 

The "why" and the "how" of the decrease in ECS-related metabolites are not yet understood. The authors concede that this is merely an observation, or a starting point, if you will, for further research. At most, they suggest that the reduction of coffee metabolites processed by the ECS may be due to a desensitization of the ECS to coffee. Furthermore, this does not address the effects of phytocannabinoids, such as CBD or THC, may have in combination with caffeine intake. So, until that data comes out, maybe order a grande instead of a venti?

Source: Critical Reviews in Food Science and NutritionJournal of Internal Medicine, Drug Discovery Today, Neuropsychopharmacology, Journal of Caffeine Research, Nature Reviews: Neuroscience

About the Author
  • I currently work at a small CRO involved in clinical trial management.
You May Also Like
OCT 31, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
OCT 31, 2019
Scientists Doubt That Cannabis Actually Helps with Anxiety & Depression
Between CBD, THC, hemp, and marijuana, cannabis is king when it comes to popular health trends on the internet and in the marketplace right now. Cannabis p...
NOV 22, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
NOV 22, 2019
Feds Warn CBD Companies About Health Claims, Demand Response
Two federal agencies are alerting CBD companies that their marketing claims are illegal. The FTC and FDA sent out letters to several CDB companies deemed t...
DEC 27, 2019
Cannabis Sciences
DEC 27, 2019
USDA Approves First State Hemp Growing Plans
Hemp can be cultivated for use as fiber, building materials, CBD oil and more. This plant and its derivatives were legalized federally under the 2018 Farm...
JAN 03, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
JAN 03, 2020
Potent Pot May Boost Risk of First Cannabis Disorder Sign
Recreational cannabis is legal in 10 states and Washington, DC, but regulations regarding potency do not exist. The results of a new study may prompt state...
MAR 04, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
MAR 04, 2020
Smoking Marijuana Could Cause 12 Hour Erections
Smoking marijuana is known to have multiple side effects. From getting the munchies to paranoia and memory problems, it is also usually thought to cause er...
MAR 20, 2020
Health & Medicine
MAR 20, 2020
THC and Single Joint Linked to Temporary Psychiatric Symptoms
A new analysis of cannabis health risks and benefits reinforces the complexity of this drug, proving that health and risk factors depend on the active comp...
Loading Comments...