Whether you’re a weed newbie or a true connoisseur, you’ve probably asked yourself a simple question – why does weed make you hungry, even when you’re completely full. We’re here to answer this common weed lovers’ question, what is it that cannabis does inside our body to make us feel so ravenous?
As it turns out, contemporary science is actively working on answering this conundrum, and so far several different mechanisms that may contribute to weed-induced appetite have been uncovered.
It’s important to understand that the research dealing with the relationship between cannabis and appetite is still in its starting phases. Because of that, the scientific studies that we’ll be mentioning in this article are all performed on animal subjects.
While these studies don’t exactly prove that the same internal processes occur in humans when cannabis is introduced, they do provide us with precious insights to what might be causing the mysterious munchies.
To this date, scientists have discovered three separate mechanisms through which, they hypothesize, cannabis also influences our appetite.
Let’s check out the available research.
The Science Behind Cannabis and Appetite
The first research that we’ll be covering is a study from 2014 which found that the presence of THC (the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis) in the brain amplified the detection of odours in the olfactory bulbs.
The olfactory bulbs are neural structures of the forebrain that are intricately involved in olfaction, which is colloquially known as the sense of smell.
By interacting with the cannabinoid receptors in the olfactory bulbs, cannabis intensifies the sense of smell.
Our sense of smell plays a capital role in how we interpret complex flavours, and therefore a heightened sense of smell causes the food we consume to both smell and taste more intense.
The second important research related to this topic is from 2005, and it discovered that THC increases the palatability (a fancy word for tastiness) of sucrose, which is also known as common sugar.
In this study, the increased intake of the sucrose solution happened approximately two hours after the THC was administered to the test subjects.
The conclusions from this research potentially help to explain why we generally tend to consume a lot of carb-laden and sugary foods when we’re under the influence of cannabis.
A separate 2012 study corroborated the findings of the aforementioned research, stating that:
“The present study demonstrates that the natural cannabinoid receptor agonist THC markedly increases hedonic reactions to sucrose solution and that these effects are mediated by cannabinoid CB1 receptors.”
Finally, a 2015 research found a completely novel mechanism how cannabis influences appetite.
Scientists uncovered that THC has a very unexpected effect on the hypothalamus, which in favour tricks the brain into thinking that we’re hungry, even if we are completely full.
Under normal circumstances, hypothalamic pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons are responsible for promoting satiety (fullness), and shutting down the inclination to consume food.
But, when cannabis was introduced, the POMC neurons in the hypothalamus were being activated, but now they were promoting hunger.
The lead author of this research Tamas Horvath (a neurobiologist at Yale University School of Medicine), stated in a press release:
“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead. 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.”
Even though the science behind the munchies is unfortunately still limited, it does provide us with certain clues that help to explain why our bodies react to weed the way they do.
As the research progresses, we will certainly uncover new information that will deepen our understanding of this unusual effect.
What we know so far it that the effect of cannabis on appetite seems to be trifold:
- Weed temporarily intensifies the sense of smell
- Weed temporarily increases the palatability of sugar
- Weed temporarily changes the function of POMC neurons in the hypothalamus
- “The endocannabinoid system controls food intake via olfactory processes”, 2014
- “Effect of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol on sucrose palatability as measured by the taste reactivity test”, 2005
- “CANNABINOID FACILITATION OF BEHAVIORAL AND BIOCHEMICAL HEDONIC TASTE RESPONSES”, 2012
- “Hypothalamic POMC neurons promote cannabinoid-induced feeding”, 2015