Getting the munchies for the first time is a part of every cannabis user’s journey. If you haven’t put a sizable dent in a bag of Doritos or ordered entirely too much Chinese delivery after a smoke session, chances are you need to be smoking better quality weed.
Marijuana’s reputation for inspiring hunger is very, very well known. Every stoner movie has a plot line around the munchies, including Cheech and Chong, Harold and Kumar, “Dazed and Confused“, and “Pineapple Express”. There is even a theory that Shaggy and Scooby Doo were hungry all the time because they were always high out of their mind!
The munchies are also responsible for a common cannabis edible horror story. You’ve probably heard it: someone eats one cannabis gummy, gets a bad case of the munchies, and then proceed to eat the rest of the package.
“The munchies” is a colloquial term for the increased appetite people often feel after consuming marijuana. People who are new to marijuana and haven’t worked up a tolerance yet are particularly susceptible to feeling like having some snacks. And while a high cannabis tolerance certainly helps suppress weed munchies, even the most experienced of stoners can find themselves with a big appetite after a joint or edible.
For some cannabis patients, increased appetite is one of the most beneficial side effects of the plant. Because chemotherapy can affect a cancer patient’s ability to acutely taste, those undergoing chemotherapy treatment are known to lose their appetite. That’s why many cancer patients turn to cannabis. Through plant-infused tinctures and edibles, people with cancer can reinvigorate their appetite easily and effectively.
Marijuana and Food: The Science Behind The Munchies
We are lucky to live in a time where research into marijuana is gaining steam. We know more about the plant and how it interacts with our bodies than we ever have! Now, researchers are starting to investigate and understand exactly why cannabis gives us the munchies.
So why does weed increase appetite? Let’s take a look at a recent research study conducted by researchers at the University of Bordeaux and published in Nature Neuroscience. The study was conducted on mice, which are often used for neuroscience research because mice share a shockingly high number of cognitive similarities with humans.
Researchers exposed mice to banana and almond oil and observed the mice as they sniffed and eventually lost interest. Then the researchers dosed the mice with THC. Once dosed, the mice not only sniffed the oil longer and showed more interest, they ate more chow when given the opportunity.
Researchers concluded that THC increased olfactory senses and appetite in mice. This could be the same explanation for munchies in humans.
Why does THC increase smell and appetite?
THC is a cannabinoid, a chemical compound found in cannabis, and looks very similar to naturally produced chemical compounds in the body. Cannabinoids bind with cannabinoid receptors which are found all throughout the body, especially in the brain and nervous system.
It just so happens that THC fits perfectly into the cannabinoid receptors in the Olfactory Bulb of the brain. The Olfactory Bulb is responsible for our sense of smell and our sense of smell is tightly knit with our appetite and sense of taste.
Researchers at the University of Bordeaux concluded that THC can increase appetite simply because smell and taste is more acute and robust. When food smells and tastes better, could anyone blame cannabis consumers for getting the munchies?
But increased taste and olfactory senses aren’t the only reason marijuana makes us hungry. THC can also stimulate hunger by signaling the release of hormones that make you hungry, like leptin. So even when cannabis consumers are completely full, THC can trick the brain into sending hunger signals. And once those hunger signals get released, it is hard to resist snacking.
THC and the brain
THC can also inhibit the signals that tell our bodies we are full when we are eating. Tamas Horvath, Ph.D., a professor of Comparative Medicine and Neurobiology at Yale, studied the effects of cannabis on brain circuits. He found that the brain circuitry usually responsible for letting us know we are full becomes hyperactivated after weed consumption. The hyperactivity makes these circuits indicate hunger instead of being full.
Horvath says, “When you expose those circuits to cannabinoids, they switch from releasing a compound that suppresses hunger to one that increases appetite.”
So while stoner movies depict the funny nature of the munchies, there’s actually pretty complex neuroscience behind the phenomenon. Thankfully for so many medical cannabis patients, simple plant-based medicine can help give them their appetite back.
The next time you get the munchies, take a second to think about all the complexities happening in your brain that lead to increased appetite. By the time you think through it, maybe you’ll have beaten those cravings!