Cannabis in a K-cup

Two of America’s favorite psychoactive herbals, together, again.

Posted Aug 03, 2017

This just had to happen.  Two of America’s favorite psychoactive herbals, marijuana and coffee, together in a K-cup and ready for brewing.  It’s inevitable that these two popular, rather inexpensive and legal (in lots of states) herbals would be combined in a ready-to-use form.  What will the combined effects of a hot-water extract (decoction in pharmacological terms) of these two plants do to the brain?  What will it feel like? With regards to coffee, the effects are entirely predictable.  Everyone knows what it feels like to self-administered caffeine.  With regards to marijuana, the answer is not at all predictable. The problem is that no one knows what components of the plant, i.e. the balance of active and inactive compounds, will be extracted by the hot water.

We’ve all heard about the methods that humans utilize to self-administer the active ingredients of marijuana.  Since the Pleistocene, over 11,700 years ago according to archaeological evidence, humans have inhaled the smoke from the burning plant or its extracted oils or consumed parts of the plant in cooked food. Why have we never heard about preparing marijuana in the same way that we prepare tea or coffee, i.e. by hot water extraction? The answer is likely because the cognitive effects produced by drinking a marijuana-like tea was simply not as pleasurable to our Pleistocene ancestors. During the past eleven millennia, someone, somewhere must have already tried this. It’s just too easy to prepare a warm drink and much less irritating to the throat than inhaling the smoke. Whatever the reason, this method of marijuana administration never became popular.

Our ancestors tried many different approaches to obtaining psychoactive effects from the plants that grew around them.  Someone must have tried chewing on tobacco leaves and coca leaves and discovered that doing the latter produced a much better feeling than doing the former. Sucking on coca leaves has a long history; inhaling the smoke of a burning coca plant has no history.  Why? Because the cocaine in coca leaves is unstable when burned; thus, inhaling the smoke would not produce euphoria.  Not until this century did scientists discover that cocaine could be converted from its acid form found naturally in the plant into its basic form (today called free-base cocaine) that would tolerate the high temperatures produced by burning without being destroyed. That’s why people today smoke free-base cocaine.

Caffeine and marijuana have vastly different effects within the brain; this makes predicting how the combination might affect mood or thinking exceptionally difficult.  Caffeine is considered a brain stimulant; marijuana is not a stimulant, nor is it a depressant. The brain’s response to marijuana is far more complex that is its response to caffeine.  The brain contains far more receptors for marijuana to act upon than it does for caffeine. Compounding this problem is the influence of drug tolerance.  Long term coffee drinkers who never smoked marijuana in the past will respond quite differently to the combination of marijuana and coffee as compared to someone who rarely drank coffee but regularly used marijuana. Genetics, age and gender will also play a role each person’s response to this drink.  Some people are born more vulnerable to the euphoric properties of drugs, and thus more likely become addicted; males typically experience a greater euphoria in response to drugs of abuse, and the aging brain slowly changes how it responds to marijuana over time.

There are numerous testimonials on the internet claiming that the combination made the experience both better and worse than using either herbal alone.  Scientists have known for many decades that combining psychoactive drugs can produce highly variable effects upon brain function.  Today, due to a total lack of knowledge, combining marijuana and coffee is still pharmacological roulette.

© Gary L. Wenk, Ph.D.  is the author of The Brain: What Everyone Needs to Know (2017) and Your Brain on Food, 2nd Edition, 2015 (Oxford University Press).

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