Cannabis users are often portrayed with red eyes and forever on the hunt for their next snack. While we may understand the science behind red eyes, there are plenty of different theories about where the hunger that cannabis causes comes from. These hunger pangs or the munchies, as they’re known colloquially, are a common reaction from cannabis users of all kinds, regardless of how they consume cannabis. So, where do the munchies come from and what makes them consistent with the cannabis experience? This week, we take a look at the body’s endocannabinoid system, senses, and hormones to find out why cannabis gives you munchies!
THC and the Endocannabinoid System
The cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the main psychoactive component of cannabis, which is associated with the “high” feeling most people attribute to the plant. Besides providing feelings of euphoria and a heightened sense of reality, THC also interacts with the endocannabinoid system. In our bodies, this system is in charge of our emotions, memory, sensitivity to pain, and of course, appetite. When consuming cannabis, THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system and fits into its receptors in the brain, mimicking the brains’ own cannabinoids.
How Your Sense of Smell Plays into Munchies
In 2014, a study found that THC interacts with the olfactory bulb, which is the part of the brain that has the ability to smell food. This study also found that after being exposed to THC, subjects had a heightened sense of smell and maintained their interest in food longer than subjects that hadn’t been exposed to the cannabinoid. Scientists believe that these effects were so powerful because our sense of smell and taste are closely related. In fact, somewhere between 75% and 95% of what we believe is taste is actually from our sense of smell.
Heightened Hormones Boost Hunger
However, the effects of tetrahydrocannabinol don’t stop there. Further studies have shown that THC also interacts with ghrelin, a hormone that the stomach releases which can increase appetite. Although this same effect can not be achieved by the other famous cannabinoid, cannabidiol (CBD), as that deals more with pain and anxiety. Only THC can activate this appetite boosting hormone in the body, which leads to the munchies. In the United States, THC is even approved by the Food & Drug Administration as a medication for patients struggling with anorexia caused by HIV.
Possible Healthy Side Effects
For people who struggle to eat or lack appetite, the effects of THC and its ability to cause the munchies are clearly beneficial. But what about people who don’t have those same health issues? Well, medical studies have found that people who used cannabis had lower fasting insulin levels, as well as smaller waist circumferences. Although many people might assume that having the munchies regularly would cause you to pile on the pounds, studies have also shown that cannabis does not have any effect on body weight. Therefore, it’s safe to say tht cannabis may help keep you healthy alongside giving you a healthy appetite!