Coffee Affects same Areas of Brain as Cannabis

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Researchers have discovered that consuming coffee and using cannabis have opposite affects on the same areas of the brain.

A study conducted at Chicago’s Northwestern University looked at the affects of coffee consumption on metabolism. Researchers found that compounds in coffee affect the endocannabinoid system–the same metabolic system influenced by compounds in cannabis, which results in its medicinal and recreational affects.


Especially after eight cups of coffee a day, the Northwestern study showed that compounds in coffee reduced production of endocannabinoid metabolites. That’s the opposite of what happens when you smoke cannabis. Cannabinoids in cannabis mimic compounds produced naturally by the endocannabinoid system.

Lead study author Marilyn Cornelis explained that the endocannabinoid system helps metabolize stress. But under chronic stress, endocannabinoid production is reduced. Eight cups of coffee, researchers speculated, may cause enough stress to inhibit production of endocannabinoid metabolites, the compounds that affect metabolism.

“The increased coffee consumption over the two-month span of the trial may have created enough stress to trigger a decrease in metabolites in this system. It could be our bodies’ adaptation to try to get stress levels back to equilibrium,” Cornelis said.

Cornelis told online science publication ZME Science that the interaction of metabolic compounds in cannabis and coffee are unknown, but that various effects could be imagined. For instances, studies have showed that coffee intake has been linked to weight management, while one of the notorious side effects of cannabis use is increased appetite.

Study researchers made the comparison based on recognition of coffee’s effects on the endocannabinoid system, and can only speculate as to the possible opposite effects of cannabis compounds. Academic and clinical research on cannabis, in the U.S., is prohibited by classification of cannabis as a schedule one drug.

The result was one of several new discoveries made by the research team. A group of 47 subjects, from Finland, were followed for three months. During the first month, they abstained from coffee. Subjects drank four cups of coffee a day during the second month, and eight cups of coffee a day during the third month. Blood samples were taken and analyzed for over 800 metabolites potentially affected by coffee, though the study was eventually narrowed down to 100 metabolites that researchers found “worthy of discussion.”

Researchers also found that coffee had an effect on the androsteroid system. Compounds in coffee help eliminate steroids from the body, which may have further implications for how coffee compounds may affect diseases involving the steroid pathway, like cancer.

The study was published in peer review Journal of Internal Medicine, and supported by the American Diabetes Association, the German Federal Ministry of Health, among others.