Why Does Cannabis Make You Hungry?
Updated: Jan 8
After finishing an edible or smoking a joint, it's all too common to have our stomachs growling and mouth-watering for a delicious snack. Cannabis has been associated with "the munchies" for decades, but why does this happen to our bodies?
Naturally, our body has methods of indicating hunger to ensure we keep ourselves fueled with energy-rich foods. Once eaten, the food moves through our stomach and intestines with the help of contractions called the migrating motor complex (MMC). In the final phase of these contractions, the motilin hormone causes the rumbling in our stomachs that we call hunger pangs. This hormone is released about two hours after we eat, but that doesn't mean our brains won't decide they want a snack before then.
A second hormone, ghrelin, activates AgRP (agouti-related peptide) neurons that communicate to the hypothalamus region of our brain. This hormone stimulates appetite, and when it's activated, we can't resist reaching for a nearby snack. The smell of warm brownies or a sizzling plate of fajitas will also stimulate the appetite with the help of ghrelin, and even delicious images of these foods can trigger the same response.
So, why do scientists believe cannabis makes us hungry? THC, a major cannabinoid found in cannabis, interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS) just like our naturally produced endocannabinoids do. During this interaction, it signals to our body that we are hungry, and the production of the ghrelin hormone steps in to persuade us toward another meal. Even more interesting, cannabis's interaction with our ECS plays with receptors related to the olfactory bulb, a neural structure of the vertebrate forebrain involved with our sense of smell and taste. This is why the same food can smell and taste better after consuming cannabis compared to without it.
The appetite-stimulating property of some cannabis strains can be medically beneficial for those struggling to keep weight on, like cancer patients, those with HIV/AIDS, and individuals facing anorexia. For people who lose their appetite during stressful events in their life, THC can help them feel hungry, alleviating the potential for unwanted weight loss. CBD and CBG are cannabinoids that can help reduce anxiety and nausea, and while they don't directly associate with hunger, the relief from anxiety and nausea can indirectly help encourage an appetite.
While it's true that cannabis can be used to increase our desire for food, long-term use doesn't have a tie to poor weight management. In fact, studies point to the opposite. According to this 2018 study published in the Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research journal, the consumption of THC "is responsible for downregulation of CB1R, and therefore, for reduced obesity rates of Cannabis users" as "downregulation of CB1R is required for reduced BMI." Additionally, the decrease in anxiety through consuming cannabis can lead to less anxiety-induced snacking for those who "stress eat," and cannabis's assistance with enhanced sleep quality may also contribute to maintaining a healthy body weight.
Next time you light up a joint and start to feel hungry, know that the sudden onset of "the munchies" is completely normal, and for some consumers, this trait may be desirable to help them through periods when their appetite is low. While some cannabis strains will induce this feeling more than others, finding the right cultivar for you will make the experience all that more enjoyable.
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*This post is for informational purposes only. Please consult with your doctor if using cannabis for medicinal purposes.
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