Why Does Weed Give You The Munchies?
While science is busily burning and boiling, poking and prodding and just generally scrutinizing cannabis - uncovering new and fascinating medical possibilities in the process - it dawned on us that we haven’t always needed science’s help to discover the plant’s most mystical effects.
Indeed, its greatest achievement is arguably one of its most glaringly obvious. Aside from, perhaps, a giddy spell of euphoria, many people will tell you that what they love most about cannabis is a nice, gluttonous bout of “The Munchies”. Because who doesn’t love eating an entire loaf of bread that’s been dipped, slice-by-monotonous-slice, into some Mac n' Cheese?
For those of you that don’t know that The Munchies are, allow us to explain: you smoke weed and then you devour everything in sight. It’s a wonderful experience for everyone except wallet and waistline. But whoever listened to those guys anyway?
So what are The Munchies? Why does it happen? Whose bacon fries are these? Mind if we have nine of them? Let’s find out the answers to these questions and more…
Why does cannabis give us the Munchies?
As is so often the case with scientific discoveries, mice provided the answer. You may be wondering why mice are so often the guinea pigs in these experiments - maybe even wondering why guinea pigs aren't guinea pigs more often - but it’s all due to cognitive similarities. We share a surprising amount with mice - actually quite a scary amount - making them ideal for neurological experimentation.
In this particular experiment, the mice spent several months in a French laboratory being given the munchies. At first, before the introduction of cannabis, they were each placed in front of fragrant blobs of banana and almond oil. This might not sound very appealing to your or I, but it’s the equivalent of some freshly served In-N-Out Burger to those little guys.
Scientists then monitored the brain activity of the subject group, carefully noting any shifts in neurological activity. What they were looking for was how the simple smell of food affects things on a cognitive level.
They noticed a drastic increase in activity in a part of the brain known as the Olfactory Bulb; unsurprisingly, this is the part that deals with smell and flavor. Whenever this region splutters into life, we become more ravenous. This explains why, when our meal arrives at a restaurant table, it smells and tastes amazing in those first few moments.
But what what effect does THC have when introduced? Any why? The answer to this second question actually has a lot to do with our own bodies...
The Endocannabinoid System
We all, as human beings, naturally produce compounds known as endocannabinoids. These are tiny chemicals which carry messages around the brain, flooding certain areas to elicit a desired response: hunger, laughter, pain, fear, anxiety, and so on.
It just so happens that the endocannabinoids in our bodies are identical in shape to cannabinoids, the chemical compounds in cannabis. THC and CBD - long-running protagonists in the GreenRush blog - are two examples of cannabinoids, of which there are more than 60 identified. Granted, not all of them are reason enough to make you order weed online in San Francisco, but a few of them have a big impact on us.
So, when we smoke weed, we are releasing an extra army of chemical compounds into our bodies; essentially allowing them to run riot and upset the carefully regulated chemical balances within us. When the brain’s receptor sites are flooded with cannabinoids - remember, it can’t tell the difference - it results in side-effects such as happiness, lethargy and, you guessed it, hunger. Which brings us back to the mice…
After being exposed to the banana and almond oil for a little while, the scientists noticed that the mice soon lost interest. A bit like that Meat Feast Domino’s we mentioned earlier: the smell is overwhelming, your mouth is salivating, you want to stuff it all down you more than anything in the world. But, when you realise you don’t actually get to eat it, the sensation eventually dies away. Scientists call this phenomenon Olfactory Habituation. Without it, we’d all eat until we burst.
Mice With the Munchies
The mice were now given a healthy dose of THC and the experiment was repeated. They didn’t smoke any weed, obviously, but were administered large doses straight into the brain. After receiving their “hit”, they were each faced with the same delicious blobs of banana and almond oil. This time, it was as if somebody had disabled their Olfactory Habituation. The mice didn’t tire of the oil blobs for a much, much longer time. Eventually, when the test was ended and the mice were allowed to eat, the scientists noticed they ate far more than they had following the previous day’s testing. Essentially, these mice became complete gluttons following a THC hit.
Just to be sure, as this overwhelming evidence seemingly wasn’t good enough for them, the scientists genetically engineered some new mice to lack cannabinoid receptors in their olfactory bulb. Basically, shielding this region of the brain from the influence of cannabis. These subjects were then doused with THC and - yep, you guessed it - they started to lose interest in their blobs as early as the original mice. They still enjoyed a good sniff, sure (who doesn’t?), but there were clear signs that olfactory habituation was back.
There have been a few other experiments too - animal lovers need fear not, they didn’t all involve mice - which prove that it isn't just the olfactory bulb that is targeted by THC. A different group of scientists proved, in 2015, that the nucleus accumbens also receives a tickle. This releases a squirt of dopamine, the hormone responsible for euphoria. The association of eating while this guy runs amok causes a psychological association between the two - making us crave more food while high.
The Munchies and Medicine
Now, you might be wondering why it’s useful to know any of this stuff. For us it’s cool to know, sure, but why have all those scientists and mice been necessary. Well, it’s all to do with medical research. A host of illnesses could be made more treatable thanks to research like this. Eating disorders, like anorexia, are obvious examples, But there also a number of conditions which cause a loss of appetite in sufferers, such as AIDS and those receiving chemotherapy.
So not only is this simple side-effect one of the most famous, and enjoyable, aspects of smoking cannabis, it may actually be the key to making life a lot more comfortable for people that really need it. That’s quite a legacy for those mice to leave behind. So, order weed online in San Francisco, and honour the memory of these heroes...
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