By Jenny Menzel, H.C.
If you’ve ever tried kicking a caffeine habit or found yourself without access to your favorite caffeinated beverage, you likely know what the negative effects of quitting or cutting back feel like — headaches, fatigue, irritability, and reduced concentration. Can hemp’s dominant compound, cannabidiol (CBD), help soften the backlash?
While research is still in its infancy, an emerging trend of mixing CBD with caffeine has consumers experimenting and sharing their anecdotes. Some feel that using CBD helps them enjoy caffeine’s benefits, like energy and alertness, while reducing unwanted side effects, such as anxiousness or jitters. Others give CBD accolades for helping them easily lower their caffeine intake to a healthier amount or eliminating it from their diet altogether. This article takes a look at how CBD may cancel the discomfort commonly felt when breaking up with your favorite caffeine source.
The Caffeine Appeal
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), roughly 80% of adults in the U.S. consume some form of caffeine — coffee being the most widely used. A naturally-occurring central nervous system (CNS) stimulant found in over 60 plants, caffeine is also prominent in tea leaves, cacao pods used in chocolate, and kola nuts for soda flavor.
In small to moderate doses, caffeine provides beneficial boosts in energy, mood, and alertness. In contrast, higher doses can cause side effects like shakiness, poor sleep, suppressed appetite, dehydration, and headaches. There’s also a risk of dependency, as the brain can trick us into thinking we need more caffeine when, instead, we simply need sleep, food, or water.
In an article by Mayo Clinic, a safe daily intake of caffeine is up to 400 milligrams, depending on a person’s sensitivity — about four cups of coffee. Yet, even within a safe consumption range, withdrawal symptoms might still be felt when curtailing caffeine. Are these rough edges something CBD can smooth? Let’s take a look at the data.
How CBD Neutralizes Caffeine
Problem #1 Caffeine Crankiness
We all know crabby people we avoid speaking to until after their morning coffee — this person may even be you! Some of the first noticeable symptoms from skipping your routine caffeine fix are irritability, grogginess, and diminished focus. Because caffeine binds to adenosine receptors in the brain, which are in charge of telling us when we are sleepy, alertness levels rise along with signaling to release dopamine — the neurotransmitter linked to pleasure and rewards. When caffeine is stopped abruptly, adenosine receptors quickly die, dopamine signaling diminishes, and your mood and motivation plummet until dopamine levels are replenished.
How CBD may help: According to a trial published in Neuropsychopharmacology, CBD may boost mood and focus by modulating GABA — indirectly replenishing mood-supporting dopamine receptors in the brain. Other studies have found CBD limits the release of dopamine from where it’s produced in the basal ganglia, making it especially useful for curbing stimulant cravings and adrenaline rushes.
Problem #2 Dreaded Caffeine Headaches
For many people, it’s standard practice to reach for a cup of java for an afternoon pickup. As mentioned, caffeine blocks sleep-indicating adenosine receptors, allowing us to feel awake and alert, even if we’re tired. But even ingesting safe levels on a daily basis can lead to a withdrawal headache after yanking caffeine from your system. As we reduce caffeine, blood vessels in the brain become constricted due to a decrease in adenosine receptors, resulting in the dreaded caffeine headache.
How CBD may help: With natural, anti-inflammatory qualities, CBD neutralizes withdrawal headaches by calming inflammatory chemicals and encouraging adenosine activity to manage the number of receptors.
Problem #3 The Afternoon Slump
Caffeine is used to wake us up and get us going, so it’s natural to feel lethargic and sleepy when you’re not consuming it. While this “crash” is short-lived, the demands of our fast-paced society don’t reward practices like healthy sleep habits the same as they do excessive productivity, pressuring many to push beyond their body’s limits. Long-time caffeine consumers can develop irregular sleeping patterns, particularly those taking stimulating caffeine into the afternoon and evening. Intimately interwoven, sleep and stress see-saw with one another. When sleep declines, stress goes up; and when stress goes up, so does the number of sleep disturbances.
How CBD may help: Depending on the dose, there are a couple of ways CBD may keep you from reaching for caffeine to power through the day. First, low doses of full-spectrum CBD may help maintain energy levels, a positive mood, and minimize brain fog while reducing or eliminating caffeine from the diet. A 2004 study indicated low-dose CBD of 15 milligrams had a stimulating effect on subjects, canceling THC’s sedative effects (the psychoactive compound found in marijuana). Conversely, high doses of CBD ranging between 300-600 milligrams were found to interrupt the secretion of our body’s stress hormone cortisol — calming the nervous system and promoting deeper sleep. Older research notes only 160 milligrams were needed to achieve adequate sleep.
The Bottom Line
In low doses, caffeine can be enjoyed in brain-boosting beverages like coffee and tea. However, if your daily use increases, caffeine may cause unwanted side effects, causing withdrawal symptoms when eliminating or reducing consumption too quickly. CBD may help mitigate these effects, allowing for a more comfortable cutback. If you’re trying to consume less caffeine, start by adding low-dose CBD to your daily routine a few times a day. Slowly decreasing caffeine levels over the course of a few days while increasing CBD may help balance any unwanted side effects of caffeine or the lack thereof.
- Caffeine. (2020, October 06). Retrieved February 24, 2021, from https://medlineplus.gov/caffeine.html
- Caffeine: How much is too much? (2020, March 06). Retrieved February 24, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/caffeine/art-20045678
- Gonca E, Darıcı F. The effect of cannabidiol on ischemia/reperfusion-induced ventricular arrhythmias: the role of adenosine A1 receptors. J Cardiovasc Pharmacol Ther. 2015;20(1):76-83. doi:10.1177/1074248414532013
- Pretzsch, C. M., Freyberg, J., Voinescu, B., et al. (2019). Effects of cannabidiol on brain excitation and inhibition systems; a randomised placebo-controlled single dose trial during magnetic resonance spectroscopy in adults with and without autism spectrum disorder. Neuropsychopharmacology, 44(8), 1398-1405. doi:10.1038/s41386-019-0333-8
Jenny Menzel, H.C., is a Certified Health Coach and branding specialist for various alternative healthcare practices, and volunteers her design skills to the annual grassroots campaign, the Lyme Disease Challenge. Jenny was diagnosed with Lyme in 2010 after 8 years of undiagnosed chronic pain and fatigue, and continues to improve by employing multiple alternative therapies, including Āyurveda, Chinese Medicine and Bee Venom Therapy.