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Science Has Figured Out What Causes the Munchies

science has figured out what causes the munchies

Cannabis can cause cravings, and just about everyone who has ever consumed it understands that when the munchies strike, it is hard to resist the urge to snack. The capacity of cannabis to stimulate hunger is well known.

What isn’t well understood is how cannabis causes appetite stimulation and food cravings. Online resources like Leafly and Weedmaps can provide information that can help you choose strains of medical cannabis that are less likely to promote appetite. You can avoid the strains most likely to cause the munchies.

A new study claims to have solved the mystery of why and how cannabis may stimulate hunger. This is good news if you are both a medical cannabis patient and someone who is on a controlled medical diet. The findings of the new study may surprise you.

The New Research Study About Cannabis and Food Cravings

On December 27, 2023, “Cannabis Sativa Targets Mediobasal Hypothalamic Neurons to Stimulate Appetite” was published, which presented some new insights into appetite stimulation and cannabinoids. The animal study was conducted on mice with ground whole flower that had 7.8% THC and 0.5% cannabidiol (CBD) content.

One of the limitations of the study is that researchers have access to low-THC cannabis only. The average potency of cannabis purchased in the United States is 15%, which is almost twice the potency permitted in the study by federal law.

Another limitation of the research study is that only one intake method was evaluated. Researchers focused on cannabis vapor, or smokable cannabis, rather than other types of intake methods. Nonetheless, the insights were fascinating.

  1. Relative to air-treated controls, exposure to cannabis vapor produced a transient, significant increase in food intake 2-3 hours after exposure.
  2. Vapor cannabis stimulates food anticipatory responses. In other words, it makes you get very excited thinking about the food you are going to eat.
  3. The pattern of CB1R suggests that inhaled cannabis may alter the activity of multiple populations of Medialbasal Hypothalamus (MBH) neurons in the brain.
  4. AgRP neurons are functionally relevant for the regulation of cannabis-induced feeding behavior.

Unless you are a medical researcher specializing in neurons and brain functioning, the study is a little difficult to understand. However, it identified how the human brain responds to cannabis to promote appetite. Researchers also indicated there is not much you can do to change how cannabis triggers appetite; it is part of how the human endocannabinoid system works.

snack time

Why Does Food Taste So Good When You Are High?

After you have consumed cannabis, within 20-30 minutes (for smokable) or two hours (for edibles), you may find yourself heading for the kitchen. Even if you are not the kind of person who snacks constantly, you can find yourself motivated to head to the fridge.

We know that cannabis is an appetite stimulant, but have you ever noticed that food tastes different when you are high? It isn’t that you are extra hungry, either. It is because cannabis temporarily amplifies your dopamine levels.

Cannabinoids (especially THC) bind with CB1 receptors in your brain. Those receptors are responsible for how things smell and taste, as well as the euphoric, happy feeling you can experience after consuming cannabis. When dopamine levels are high, your taste buds are impacted also, which makes every taste really (really) good.

But what is actually driving you to forage for food, and where do the food cravings actually come from? Ghrelin is a hormone that stimulates hunger. When cannabis binds to CB1 receptors in the brain, the cascading effect also triggers the release of ghrelin, which makes you hungry.

The combination causes both a strong hunger drive and an increased appetite. Then, when you eat something, there is an explosion of flavors that are heightened by cannabis. The way your brain responds to inhaled cannabis can provide a stronger and more immediate appetite drive than other intake methods.


Some Patients Benefit from Appetite Stimulation

Certain medications and chronic diseases can suppress appetite. For example, cancer patients who are undergoing chemotherapy may experience gastrointestinal upset and nausea that makes it difficult to eat. Getting the right daily nutrition is critical to health and healing.

Other causes of clinical appetite loss include:

  • Cachexia.
  • Dementia.
  • Heart failure.
  • Hepatitis.
  • HIV.
  • Hypothyroidism.
  • Kidney disease.
  • Liver disease.

There are also many types of prescription drugs that can suppress appetite. Medications include common antibiotics, amphetamines, opioids, digoxin, fluoxetine, and hydralazine. One of the most commonly prescribed medications for anxiety (bupropion) is also known to be an appetite suppressant.

For patients who struggle with appetite loss due to a chronic health condition or prescription medications, the munchies that others dread are actually welcomed. Medical cannabis vapor from a volcano (tabletop cannabis vapor) is provided to patients in hospice care for the same reasons.

cannabis munchies healthy snacks

Can You Reduce Cravings After Consuming Cannabis?

Some strains of cannabis are notorious for causing munchies. Aside from choosing low-munchie strains, there isn’t a lot you can do to prevent the snack attack. But there is a way to reverse engineer and plan for the munchies with healthier snacks.

What is easiest to eat is not the healthiest. If you are using cannabis in the evening, indulging in multiple snacks or a big meal can not only increase your risk of gaining weight, but a full stomach can also mess with your sleep.

It is not just the junk food that tastes very good when the munchies attack. Everything tastes great! So keep some healthy snacks like cheese, fruit, vegetables, and dip, or low-calorie protein bars or shakes on hand.

Changing Intake Methods Won’t Curb The Munchies

There are many myths about intake methods, presuming that smokable cannabis has a greater probability of stimulating hunger. All THC increases appetite, whether you smoke it, consume an edible or tincture, or another type of medical marijuana product.

The reason why many people believe smokable cannabis is the worst for causing cravings is the time it takes for THC to enter your bloodstream with inhaled cannabis. When using smokable flower or cannabis vapor, the psychoactive effects may be felt within 3-5 minutes. Tetrahydrocannabinol moves quickly through the lungs and directly into the bloodstream, so you feel the effects faster, including a drive for food intake.

Edibles can take up to ninety (90) minutes before the full effects may be felt. But edibles (like all medical marijuana products) have an equal chance of causing the munchies. It just takes longer because the THC must enter the digestive system before it is absorbed.

The only way to reduce appetite after using medical marijuana is to reduce the potency of the products you are using. Higher potency cannabis has the greatest likelihood of translating into an epic snack attack. Certain medical conditions may not require high-potency cannabis to help with symptoms, so talk to a cannabis healthcare provider about adjusting your dose.

Another not-so-secret strategy is to take a clinical-grade cannabidiol (CBD) supplement daily. When you take CBD, it reduces some of the psychoactive effects of cannabis. It may also help you tame the munchies if it sabotages healthy weight management.



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