A Journal of Cannabis and Culture

The Munchies, Explained

The Munchies, Explained

BY MARIE LODI  

Every cannabis enthusiast knows that after smoking, a bout of the munchies is likely to follow. However, this is more than just a marijuana-related cliche. There’s actual science linking cannabis and our appetites!

“Cannabis, THC specifically, can increase an individual’s appetite by a number of ways,” says Dr. Sherry Yafai, MD, a physician focused on cannabis-based medicine at The Releaf Institute; she’s also director of research and development at High Sobriety, as well as co-vice president for the Society of Cannabis Clinicians. “In individuals using cannabis recreationally, THC enhances the sense of taste and flavor,” Dr. Yafai explains, which was proven in a 2014 study published in Nature Neuroscience. Researchers discovered that the cannabinoid receptors in the brain “promote food intake in fasted mice by increasing odor detection,” which means that if you smell something delicious while high, like a freshly-baked waffle cone, THC increases your sensitivity to the scent, subsequently causing you to want to eat more of it. But that’s not the only reason THC stimulates your appetite.

Another study, published in 2015 by Yale University’s School of Medicine, found that weed also affects a cluster of neurons in the brain that are supposed to suppress appetite and regulate metabolism, called POMC (proopiomelanocortin) neurons. These neurons usually signal to the brain to stop eating, but receptors inside the neurons can be activated by cannabis and create endorphins, therefore increasing appetite. “We were surprised to find that the neurons we thought were responsible for shutting down eating, were suddenly being activated and promoting hunger, even when you are full. It fools the brain’s central feeding system,” lead researcher Tamas Horvath noted in the Yale report, likening the effect to “pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead.”

These findings can be beneficial for people who, due to medical-related issues, need help regaining appetite. “In the medical arena, we most often see this effect in patients with cancer, chemotherapy, or HIV-related illnesses,” says Dr. Yafai. “In these medical conditions, we often see a decrease in nausea and pain with the use of THC, which allows for patients to feel hungry.”

For those who want to quell, not encourage, the munchies, Dr. Yafai suggests decreasing THC dosage. “Using lower THC concentrations or equal parts CBD and THC may be one way to curb the appetite,” she says. In the meantime, hey, you can always rely on Postmates if you’d rather just embrace and fully satisfy those munchies.

A Journal of Cannabis and Culture
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