The munchies are a cannabis smoking staple. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you smoke, vape, or eat edibles, cannabis makes you hungry. This “side effect” helps many people with nausea and lack of appetite. Plus, there are certain strains and cannabinoids that increase or decrease appetite, depending on your needs.
But what causes this classic cannabis conundrum? Neuroscientists at Yale University think they’ve it figured out, so we looked at their research and some previous studies to see why cannabis makes us hungry.
The best answer for the munchies we currently have comes from a 2015 study. Neuroscientists at Yale School of Medicine looked at how the appetite center of the brain responds to cannabis in mice. What they found was confusing at first. It seemed as though the neurons that usually told the brain it was full were now telling it the opposite – that it was starving.
Those neurons are called pro-opiomelanocortin, or POMC, and one of their main jobs is to reduce eating when full. But researchers found that cannabis can “trick” these neurons, essentially “flipping a biochemical switch” to make POMC do the opposite of what it was intended.
“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead,” said lead author, Tamas Horvath, in a statement. “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.”
This mechanism, where cannabis “fools” neurons into doing something completely opposite than intended, is especially interesting because no other compounds are known to have this effect. More research is needed to confirm this finding, but it’s fascinating, to say the least.
Furthermore, a 2014 study also looked at cannabis and the munchies and had another surprising finding. These researchers discovered THC promoted food intake by increasing odor detection. They found that stimulating CB1 receptors with THC increased sensitivity to smells and therefore, increased feeding in hungry mice.