Four Substances That Might Hinder Your Adrenal Function YouTube Video

Most people either need their coffee, cigarette, drink, or toke to get them through the day. All four of these daily habits have substances in them that hinder proper adrenal function, which include the use of caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

These important substances many people use on a daily basis all have their positives and negatives for improving our everyday lives and our health. Most people can use caffeine, nicotine, alcohol, or THC within moderation and develop no adrenal issues whatsoever. These substances increase the production of both adrenaline and cortisol, which if already elevated may cause further health issues. Some people with overuse of these substances can lead to them developing or worsening adrenal health.


Caffeine is an interesting alkaloid. Caffeine is found in differing amounts in coffee, chocolate, tea leaves, caffeinated soda, energy drinks, and yerba mate.1 Most people know the health benefits of ingesting caffeine occasionally, from increased alertness, improved reaction time, improved concentration, and improved athletic performance (cardio and anaerobic). Medically caffeine is used to increase blood pressure and heart rate in people with orthostatic hypotension and used as a bronchodilator for asthma (but studies and evidence are poor). However, few people understand that the caffeine has a strong effect on the adrenals.

Caffeine stimulates the HPATG (hypothalamus, pituitary, adrenal, thyroid, gonadal) axis2 and increases production of both catecholamines(an example of a catecholamine is adrenaline)3 and cortisol. However, one study indicates that in healthy people the adrenal function might eventually adapt to consistent consumption of caffeine; but moderate amounts of cortisol are still released over time though instead of larger spikes.4 I recommend that if you have adrenal fatigue, no matter how difficult caffeine withdraw can be, to wean yourself off of caffeine consumption. No matter how much you believe you do not need your daily caffeine to get out of bed and go to work. Most people I have coached with adrenal fatigue have higher energy levels in a few weeks after they have quit caffeine. Taper down the amount you ingest slowly for few weeks if needed to reduce caffeine withdraw symptoms, and if you get a headache you might be tapering too quickly!


Nicotine is more challenging to quit then caffeine. Nicotine use strongly activates the dopamine reward pathway of the brain. The intense feeling of reward and pleasure(massive release of dopamine and acetylcholine in the brain) someone gets from using nicotine makes the drug one of the most addictive in the world.5 Nicotine is worse on the adrenals than caffeine. Nicotine strongly activates the HPATG axis6 and greatly triggers both catecholamine and cortisol release.7 Nicotine is also a vasoconstrictor and can lead to or worsen cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease in some people.8 Nicotine may have its niche uses to improve one’s health (people suffering from degenerative brain diseases or for the occasional cognitive boost), but most people should avoid it if possible.9 Use clean sources of nicotine like patches, toothpicks, glycerin vaping e-Cigarette fluid, or non artificial sweetener containing gum and ween off your habit over a few weeks so you can let your adrenal glands recover.10


Alcoholic beverages have been consumed by humans since the Stone Age and are more widespread in its use than any of the other substances throughout history.11 People consume alcoholic beverages as either beer, whine, spirits, or mixed drinks. Alcohol is also used in the preparation of food like flambe and is used in some dishes to make them more flavorful. Alcohol is produced from fermentation by yeast, and many different grains, fruits, and vegetables are used to create it.12 Alcohol consumption in moderation (mainly wine) may be beneficial to improve one’s health. Biodynamic wine, for example, contains resveratrol, prebiotics, polyphenols, probiotic bacteria, probiotic yeast, and antioxidants.13 14 15 16

Alcohol is poisonous and has to be metabolized by the liver by alcohol and aldehyde dehydrogenase which turn ethanol into acetaldehyde then into the short-chain fatty acid acetate.17 Chronic alcoholic beverage consumption, on the other hand, can cause severe health and life issues over time. Alcoholism can permanently damage the digestive system, liver, and central nervous system. Occasional alcoholic beverage consumption seems not to increase cortisol or cause and worsen adrenal issues. Moderate use, binge drinking, or alcoholism, on the other hand, seems to increase cortisol production significantly, lowers heart rate variability, increases blood pressure, causes sleep disturbances, and stresses the adrenal glands. Good news is that abstinent alcoholics were shown in studies to have stabilized cortisol production and adrenal function, so it would appear the issues are directly correlated with chronic consumption of alcohol. Occasional wine consumption may improve one’s health and microbiome, but if you are prone to alcoholism or are an alcoholic, avoid alcohol and please seek help to improve your life.18 19 20


I love the medicinal purposes of marijuana; I believe that there are many uses for this truly wonderful plant! There is at least one drawback of the use of THC containing products to improve one’s health. THC increases cortisol production. However, THC, unlike caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine, appears to be gentler on the adrenal glands though in its defense. In studies that were performed with rats (causative caution with the studies has to be used since rats and humans are different animals), THC appeared not to cause a significant adrenaline spike which would be harmful to adrenal recovery. There is some possible bad news about the use THC in those rat studies; it appears that in rats, THC greatly hinders thyroid function by reducing thyroxine (T4, the thyroid storage hormone) levels in some cases by 90%! However, results from a recent in vivo human survey study on the effect of marijuana on the thyroid show the opposite, “Fifty-four percent of subjects reported lifetime cannabis use, with 15% using it recently. Univariate regression analysis showed that recent marijuana users had significantly lower frequency of elevated thyrotropin (TSH) and positive anti-thyroperoxidase antibody (TPOAb) versus nonusers/past users. After controlling for confounders, recent marijuana use remained an independent predictor for TSH <5.6 μIU/mL (odds ratio of 0.344 with 95% CI of 0.127-0.928; p = 0.04) but not for negative TPOAb.” “Our study suggests that marijuana use, at least in the short term, is associated with lower levels of TSH. This finding may indicate a protective role against hypothyroidism or could also be due to hypothalamic suppression of TSH.” More research is need to determine the impact of THC use on thyroid function.21 22 23

THC dosage and frequency might be dependent on its effects on the increase of cortisol. Using small amounts of THC occasionally should not hinder adrenal function, large amounts, however, may cause or worsen adrenal fatigue, especially if you are not a chronic user. Finally, chronic THC users much like chronic caffeine users might see less of a negative HPATG effect with their usage if THC over time and are more stress resilience. “Preclinical research has indicated that cannabinoids affect functioning of the HPA axis, and it appears that the current findings suggest that overall, acute MJ administration elevates cortisol levels, but to a smaller degree in MJ-dependent users. Further, acute stress exposure in heavy MJ users also appears to largely blunt cortisol reactivity. The findings on basal cortisol levels are mixed, likely due to diurnal fluctuations of cortisol and because cortisol is sensitive to changes in daily stress. These findings suggest that MJ use may dysregulate normal functioning of the HPA axis, perhaps as individuals develop tolerance to MJ, which could further drive MJ use.”24

CBD, on the other hand, reduces elevated cortisol levels and seems to be overall beneficial for the HPATG axis.25

I believe the use of marijuana is safer than nicotine, alcohol, or caffeine, but it should be used with caution in people suffering from adrenal fatigue.