If you’ve ever consumed cannabis, you know that there’s a unique relationship between weed and food. Smoking weed makes food taste better and seem more appealing. This phenomenon is often referred to as the munchies. But why exactly do you get the munchies after using cannabis?
Why Weed Causes the Munchies
If you’re familiar with the stoner stereotype, you’ve surely heard about how weed can cause a ravenous appetite. Medical marijuana is commonly used to treat nausea, GI symptoms, and appetite loss for this reason. But what is it about smoking weed that makes us so ready to eat?
Researchers believe that the munchies are caused by THC, the psychoactive component found in cannabis. This cannabinoid has the ability to alter someone’s brain function, mood, perception, and behavior. Scientists are now beginning to uncover how and why it affects our appetite too.
The Secret Ingredient Is THC
It’s widely accepted that THC is the compound inside of cannabis causing the munchies. However, researchers have yet to determine exactly why this occurs.
One theory is that THC increases appetite by fitting neatly into the receptors of the brain’s olfactory bulb. These receptors control how we smell and taste. When THC affects this part of our brain, we may crave food more strongly because it actually tastes better to us.
Other studies from France have offered more insight into munchies. Researchers observed that THC in the brain mimics the sensation of being starved. Mice exposed to THC and mice withheld food for 24 hours showed a similar spike in cannabinoids in their olfactory lobes.
Other Reasons Cannabis Makes You Hungry
While these studies are enlightening, this information is likely just one piece of the overall puzzle. Previous research shows that cannabis also has profound effects on receptors of the nucleus accumbens. This part of the brain increases the production of pleasure-causing dopamine while eating. Additionally, THC combines nicely with receptors in the hypothalamus, boosting the release of the hunger-inducing hormone ghrelin.
A study from Yale found that sets of neurons in the hypothalamus known as POMCs went into overdrive when exposed to cannabis. Normally, POMCs secrete a hormone linked to feeling full called alpha-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (alpha-MSH). When exposed to cannabis, however, they produced beta-endorphins. Instead of making you feel full, this chemical stimulates appetite and promotes cravings.
“All of a sudden, these neurons that normally serve the purpose of stopping eating become the driver of food intake,” explains Tomas Horvath, the study’s author and a professor of neurobiology at Yale.
THC has a profound effect on our brain, which in turn has control over our appetite. Whether cannabis is helping you fight nausea and appetite loss, or its just giving you the munchies, there’s no denying it can alter our cravings. It turns out the munchies are a very real, and very delicious, stoner phenomenon.