If you have taken weed, you are most probably familiar with the munchies that come with it. Your appetite is high, so to speak, and you want to eat anything that you can lay your hands on, including your pillow! It’s worse when you have the couch-lock because you cannot even get up to fetch something to eat. For anyone who has not experienced the munchies, just imagine the feeling of wanting to eat an elephant all by yourself. Have you ever wondered why this happens?
A few factors are responsible for the munchies, and this article briefly highlights them. Cannabis research is still in the infancy stages, we expect to understand more about these mechanisms as more theories are created and investigated.
To understand how cannabis triggers the munchies, let’s first understand the mechanism of hunger and how it comes to be. This will also shed some light on why cannabis is now being incorporated in the treatment of cancer-related cachexia.
What Causes Hunger in Human Beings?
Contrary to popular belief, hunger is actually a perception that is initiated in the mind. We may “feel hungry,” even when our stomach is not empty or when we do not need to eat. After fasting for some days, you may stop feeling hungry. This means that your stomach is empty and you probably need to eat, but you do not feel hungry. This mechanism is what cannabis manipulates to make one feel hungry and eat more food.
What causes hunger? The simple answer is hormones. An empty stomach sends an impulse to the brain that causes the release of a hormone called ghrelin. This is the hunger hormone that makes you want to eat. When you eat and your stomach is full, another impulse is sent to the brain to trigger the release of leptin, the satiety hormone. This makes you feel full and then you stop eating. Clearly, this does not play out as perfectly as it should. That’s why some people end up obese and not able to control their food intake. Also, hunger is influenced by emotional and psychological factors. When we are happy or see enticing food, our mind tells us that we are hungry, and we want to eat some food. When we are sick or depressed, we rarely feel hungry and may go days without having the urge to eat.
How does Cannabis Trigger the Munchies?
As mentioned above, cannabis manipulates the process of hunger stimulation in order to induce the munchies. One study led by Tamas Horvath, a neurobiologist at Yale University School of Medicine, has investigated this mechanism extensively. The study, published in The Guardian, was titled “Reefer research: cannabis ‘munchies’ explained by the new study.”
Hovarth and his team observed the behavior of mice in a lab. 50% of the mice were given cannabis while 50% were not given anything (control group). The mice were first starved, then given food to eat. The mice that had been given cannabis continued to eat even when the control group had stopped eating. The mice were not able to sense that they were full, meaning that the hormone leptin was not doing its work.
The researchers concluded that cannabis interfered with the hormone leptin, which was supposed to alert the mice that they were full. Instead, cannabis begun to act in the same way that ghrelin does – it kept triggering the feeling of hunger, so the mice kept eating. The conclusion from this study is that the munchies are the result of a dysfunction in the hormone leptin. Cannabis hinders the perception of satiety by interfering with the hormone leptin. When satiety is inhibited, a person goes on to eat, perceiving that they are hungry.
Cannabis Makes Food Appealing
Another Japanese study suggests that cannabis interferes with taste receptors and induces cravings for food. Cannabinoids interact with receptors in the limbic system to make the experience of eating food more meaningful. When this happens, a person desires food and finds gratification from eating, so they keep eating some more.
Obesity may be based on this theory; some people who are obese associate food with emotional satisfaction, and so they keep eating even when they are full.
Cannabinoids also stimulate receptors in the olfactory bulb. This makes food more tasteful and appetizing.
Are the Munchies a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?
The munchies are a good thing for people with low appetite, nausea and vomiting, and people receiving chemotherapy treatment. For this group of people, cannabis may help them get over their food inhibitions and be able to take in and retain more food. Scientists are considering the use of cannabis in the treatment of cancer-related cachexia, and preliminary results are promising a breakthrough.
For people who have generally good appetite, the munchies may be something that needs to be regulated. This can be done by planning in advance to keep away extra foods that may tempt one to overindulge. Timing food intake is also ideal and will help to avoid having heavy meals before indulging in a weed spree.
For those with super appetites, the munchies are definitely something to avoid. This can be achieved through similar strategies to those listed above. Fortunately, cannabis consumption has not been associated with weight gain. This could be because of an increased metabolism rate. It could also be attributed to diminished sensitivity over time.
Generally speaking, the munchies are a good thing as they could offer help for people suffering from disease-related lack of appetite. This could go a long way in improving their quality of life and disease outcome in the long run.
1. The Guardian: Reefer research, cannabis ‘munchies’ explained by the new study. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/feb/18/study-on-why-cannabis-kicks-in-urge-to-eat-could-help-create-new-drugs-to-control-appetite
2. Endocannabinoid Signaling in Neural Circuits of the Olfactory and Limbic System (2016). Retrieved from https://www.intechopen.com/books/cannabinoids-in-health-and-disease/endocannabinoid-signaling-in-neural-circuits-of-the-olfactory-and-limbic-system#B3
3. MN Dispensaries and Doctors (2019): Study: Marijuana Use Associated With Lower BMI, Smaller Waist to Hip Ratio, and Better Cholesterol Levels. Retrieved from https://mndispensaries.com/study-marijuana-use-associated-with-lower-bmi-smaller-waist-to-hip-ratio-and-better-cholesterol-levels/
4. NCBI (2016): Pharmacokinetics of Cannabis in Cancer Cachexia-Anorexia Syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26883879