Why Does Weed Make You Hungry? The Science Behind The Munchies
"Why does weed make you hungry?" If you've used cannabis, chances are you've asked yourself this question, probably while burrying your face in something delicious. In this post we're going to discuss the munchies, what causes them, what benefits they bring, and much more.
We all know the feeling; one minute you’re melting into every crevice on your coach and the next you’re raiding your kitchen or a nearby convenience store for anything even remotely edible.
But what is it that causes that uncontrollable, raging desire to chow down on a garbage can full of popcorn or a mile-long burrito after using cannabis? Well, we’re here to find out.
In this article we’ll show you exactly why weed makes you hungry. While humans have interacted with cannabis for thousands of years, only recent evidence provides a solid explanation of what causes the munchies.
So, grab a burrito (or whatever you’re craving) and get reading. Once you’re done, make sure you sign up to GreenRush today and use the promo code at the end of the post to receive $20 off your first FOUR cannabis delivery orders.
The Munchies: Why Does Weed Make You Hungry?
Humans have been using marijuana, hemp, and other cannabis products for thousands of years. The earliest references to cannabis or hemp products date back to 2350 BC in places like China Ancient India, and Persia.
Hemp had numerous industrial uses and was a key ingredient in manufacturing cloth, rope, paper, and bowstring. Cannabis was also used as a medical cure for menstrual cramps, rheumatism, and anxiety (among other conditions), and in spiritual ceremonies.
Spiritual leaders in India, for example, consumed beverages containing bhang (a thick cannabis paste) as a way of bridging the gap to the gods, helping them along their path to enlightenment. Sadly, they probably didn’t have a 24-hour mexican place to barge into once the munchies kicked in.
Despite our ancestors having such a strong connection with cannabis so many years ago, it wasn’t until over 4000 years later that we finally got a decent explanation of why cannabis causes hunger.
A 2014 study published in Nature Neuroscience served as our first real insight into what makes us empty the pantry after a joint.
The study found that endocannabinoids and exogenous cannabinoids increased odor detection and food intake in mice.
Researchers fed THC to a group of mice before exposing them to banana and almonds oils. They then gave them food and monitored their intake. The researchers found that the group that consumed THC spent more time smelling the oils and also ate more.
They concluded that this was caused by the CB1 receptor (triggered by THC and other cannabinoids) located in the olfactory bulb in the brain. When these receptors are stimulated by THC or other cannabinoids, the mice experience a heightened sense of smell which in turn aggravates their appetite.
The researchers confirmed this theory after performing the same experiment on a group of mice that were genetically engineered to lack these particular cannabinoid receptors. In this incident, the THC had no effect on the mice, their food intake, or their sense of smell.
But that’s not the only explanation of what causes the munchies. A 2015 study in Nature led by researchers at Yale University found that the answer might be a little more complicated.
The study found that cannabinoids affect a cluster of neurons (called POMC neurons) in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain typically associated with instincts like sexual arousal, alertness and feeding.
These neurons normally send out chemical signals to the brain which stop us from eating because we feel full. In previous studies researchers shut down the POMC neurons in a group of mice and found that they became morbidly obese, so it was logical to expect that cannabis would lower the activity of these neurons and increase food intake.
However, the team found that cannabis actually INCREASED the activity of POMC neurons by turning off cells that normally command them to slow down.
They also found that cannabinoids activate a receptor inside the POMC cluster that cause cells to produce endorphins, a neurotransmitter that’s known to increase appetite.
In other words, cannabinoids such as THC actually trick this cluster of neurons to send messages to your brain that you’re starving, even though you're really full.
While the study is only conclusive about cannabis’ effect on the brains of mice, Tamas Horvath, the leader of the team conducting this study, claimed he’d “bet his life” that these neural circuits work in the same way in humans.
"Even if you just had dinner and you smoke the pot, all of a sudden these neurons that told you to stop eating become the drivers of hunger," said Horvath in an article on NPR.
The Bright Side to The Munchies
While you might feel a tiny bit of resentment every time you find yourself covered by a blanket of food wrappers after smoking, there are some solid benefits to the munchies.
The fact that cannabis acts as an appetite stimulant can be extremely beneficial for patients suffering from poor appetite. Better yet, it offers a natural alternative to the prescription drugs commonly offered by clinicians.
Appetite stimulants are used to help patients prevent unintentional weight loss brought about by a loss of appetite (medically referred to as anorexia). Patients may experience a loss of appetite for numerous reasons, including:
- Severe diseases: Cancer and AIDS patients may develop cachexia, a life-threatening condition characterized by wasting of lean muscle tissue and accompanied by appetite loss.
- Gastrointestinal issues: Patients suffering from Crohn’s disease, chronic liver diseases, and intestinal diseases often experience a loss of appetite.
- Emotional stress: Many people lose their appetite prior to stressful situations such as examinations, job interviews, performances, competitions, and others
- Mood disorders: Patients suffering from clinical depression or simply passing for depressing episodes may experience appetite loss.
- Sensory changes: Seniors often experience a partial loss of taste and smell which can affect their appetite.
- Side effects of medication: Drugs used in chemotherapy, as well as fluoxetine (Prozac), digoxin (Lanoxin), quinidine (Duraquin, Cardioquin), hydralazine (Alazine, Apresoline), certain antibiotics, and other types of medication can bring on a loss of appetite.
Appetite stimulants can also be used in the treatment of eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa.
The dangers of appetite loss can be severe. In an article on Livestrong, the University of Illinois Medical Center at Chicago suggests that a prolonged loss of appetite is likely to lead to malnutrition.
According to the BAPEN, a charitable association in the UK, malnutrition can be both a cause and symptom of a variety of health problems. These include:
- Unintentional weight loss ( a loss of 5-10% or more of body weight over three to six months)
- Osteomalacia in adults and rickets in children
- Night blindness
- Poor immunity
Malnutrition can also cause chronic fatigue, behavioural changes and, in severe cases, sudden cardiac death caused by electrolyte imbalances.
While our understanding of cannabis and its use for stimulating appetite is still limited, studies show it can be useful in treating loss of appetite brought on by various conditions.
A 2002 study by Margaret Haney, published in The Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, found that cannabis effectively increased food intake in patients with HIV.
The study compared the effects of oral THC to smoked marijuana in HIV+ patients suffering from muscle mass loss. It monitored multiple dimensions of human behavior including food intake, mood, and cognitive performance, and participants were free to self-select from a variety of foods throughout most of the session.
Preliminary data from the study suggested that THC was effective at increasing food intake in those patients. The oral THC was noted to be more effective than the smoked THC, although participants “liked” the smoked medicine more. And who blames them.
Cannabis Strains that Promote Hunger
[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="700"] Diablo.[/caption]
If you’re looking to boost your appetite, here are a few cannabis strains that are guaranteed to get you munching:
- Diablo: With 15-20% THC, this delicious indica strain is a great way to boost your appetite without leaving you glued to the couch. Any of its parent strains, such as Blueberry or Grapefruit, may also do the trick.
- Maui Bubble Gift: A super hybrid cross of Maui Waui, Bubble Gum, and God’s Gift, this indica-dominant strain is definitely worth a try. It provides mental clarity, pain and nausea relief due to its high CBD content, and a relaxed, euphoric high.
- Caramelo: A sativa-dominant hybrid, this stuff packs a super floral aroma and offers an energetic, uplifting effect. It is a powerful strain for tackling depression and a strong loss of appetite.
For more information, check out our previous post on cannabis strains to induce hunger.
What If I Don’t Want The Munchies?
For some patients who do not suffer from a loss of appetite or any of the above conditions, the munchies can be a bit of a drawback to using cannabis.
If you love medicating with marijuana but don’t want to end up emptying your pantry, or if you’re concerned about overeating after medicating, we’ve got good news for you.
New research suggests that cannabis may be able to suppress appetite. This research is concerned with a previously unknown compound called THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin.
While very similar in molecular structure to THC, THCV has very unique effects on users and the CB1 receptors in our brains.
In the above interview for Weedmaps.TV, Bonnie Goldstein, medical director at CannaCenters, explained that THCV blocks CB1 receptors in our brains in small doses. In turn, THCV has been shown to promote weight loss, lower body fat levels, and increase energy expenditure.
In 2007, GW Pharmaceuticals, a British cannabis-focused biopharmaceutical company, studied THCV and stated that:
“THCV has shown effects on body weight, body fat content, energy expenditure, food intake, and other obesity-related parameters. The human endocannabinoid system is known to play an important role in the regulation of body weight and metabolic homeostasis.”
A 2013 study published in the medical journal Nutrition and Diabetes also found that THCV may be a new potential treatment against obesity-associated glucose intolerance.
So far, THCV is generally only found in trace amounts in regular cannabis products. However, a 2015 article in High Times magazine suggest that the following strains contain large amounts of this new compound:
- Durban Poison
- Jack The Ripper
- Dutch Treat
- Skunk #1
For more info, check out our recent post on cannabis as an appetite suppressant.
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