The Drugs that Empower Us: Caffeine and Cannabis

When you wake up, you pour your coffee, black and rich, and add in the ingredients that make it your own. This daily ritual contributes greatly to your quality of life. Coffee is often credited with increasing productivity thereby increasing our individual contribution to society.

Caffeine is in a class of psychoactive drugs

There are many who insist that enjoying coffee is the only way they are able to get through their day. Indeed, this article may not have been written without the help caffeine. Quite literally, some people, some very ambitious and successful people, lean on this drug everyday to get them through life: “Caffeine is a central nervous system (CNS) stimulant of the methylxanthine class of psychoactive drugs. It is the world's most widely consumed psychoactive drug, but unlike many other psychoactive substances, it is legal and unregulated in nearly all parts of the world.”

The Food and Drug Administration (U.S.) classifies caffeine as "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS). Under normal circumstances caffeine is not toxic. “A cup of coffee contains 80–175 mg of caffeine, depending on what "bean" (seed) is used and how it is prepared (e.g. drip, percolation, or espresso). A caffeine accumulation exceeding 10 grams per day for an adult would be toxic. Based on this estimate, you would need to drink somewhere between 50-100 ordinary cups of coffee to reach a lethal dose. (I’m trusting Wikipedia on these numbers).

You would need to drink between 50-100 ordinary cups of coffee to reach a lethal dose.

As a casually consumed psychoactive drug, caffeine can have both positive and negative health effects. Caffeine citrate (fast acting caffeine) was included on the World Heath Organization’s (WHO) Model List of Essential Medicines in 2007. Caffeine has been shown to provide “a modest protective effect against some diseases, including Parkinson's disease, and certain types of cancer.” Still, there are cases of “mild physical dependence” associated with chronic caffeine as well as “withdrawal symptoms such as headaches and irritability.” There is also some research suggesting that caffeine intake should be reduced during pregnancy. Still, the risks are relatively minor in contrast to the comfort that a cup of coffee can bring.

Coffee and Cannabis: similar yet viewed in radically different ways

Is this starting to sound familiar? I’m drawing simple parallels here between caffeine and cannabis. These two naturally occurring, relatively innocuous drugs are both prevalent in society and yet viewed in radically different ways.

The act of grinding and rolling one up can be as therapeutic as playing music or painting

As with coffee, cannabis consumption can become ritualistic. The act of grinding your herb and rolling one up can be as therapeutic as playing music or painting. Even the variations of seeds (Indica vs. Sativa, etc.) and the wide range of preparation methods (smoking, vaping, edibles, wax, oil, etc.) that can alter and concentrate the potency are similar to the variations of enjoying coffee. posted an article on the psychological benefits of cannabis use and their thoughts put things into perspective.

When people discuss medical marijuana, the alleviation of pain will often be mentioned and rightfully so. As the article states: “chronic pain is a leading cause of reduced quality of life and those with it are trying to cope but sometimes can barely make it through the day.” What is interesting is that some researchers now believe, that cannabis may target the “affective qualities” of the pain more than anything.” It is the unpleasantness of the pain that is removed, not necessarily the intensity of the pain.

Cannabis makes the unpleasant pain in your life manageable

Cannabis makes the unpleasant pain in your life manageable. Consider the symbolic implications of that for a moment.

Marijuana can help reduce hostility and anger in people exposed to a “frustration stimulus.” Cannabis is also a potent sleep aid. Enjoying cannabis before bed will bring on that wanted feeling of drowsiness and help individuals that are struggling with chronic insomnia. “Insomnia is closely related to stress, anger, tension, and not being able to relax.”

The ability to move through life without being afraid is perhaps the most empowering effect of all

I believe that stress, anxiety, and the resulting lack of confidence are especially debilitating in our ever-present pressure to perform at top efficiency. Cannabis may be able to help: “In states where marijuana is legalized, some people claim that it works wonders for their anxiety issues. There are many arguments that cannabis is safer than many common anti anxiety and anti depressant drugs. Xanax (used to treat anxiety) has been linked to developments of dementia; this is a significant finding.” I’ve never taken Xanax and I don’t believe I ever would, especially since, “marijuana on the other hand is pretty much universal in the fact that it does decrease anxiety and promote relaxation.”

Marijuana is universal in decreasing anxiety and promoting relaxation

The act of smoking cannabis is a deeply rooted ritual. It facilitates the relaxation that allows people to focus on the things that matter. Alleviating pain is a clear reason why some people depend on cannabis. Yet this psychoactive drug may be responsible for the silent confidence that guides people to take that grand leap of faith with their career.

Cannabis has been connected to the relief of anxiety — and the ability to move through life without being afraid is perhaps the most empowering effect of all.

Derek Pluim
Derek Pluim