Happy & Hungry: Understanding the Munchies
It’s not uncommon for a cannabis experience to include a trip to the fridge or grocery store for snacks to satisfy the munchies. Many people can relate to the pleasantly overwhelming urge to indulge in an array of sweet and salty treats after smoking. Once the taste buds have been primed and activated for pleasure, that first bite of a savory meal or nibble of mouthwatering dessert is a true piece of heaven. While it’s an occurrence that’s familiar to most smokers, the reason behind the ravenous increase in appetite is usually a mystery. Until now.
A new study published in Nature Neuroscience by researchers at Yale University shows how cannabinoids significantly affect brain cells that typically suppress appetite. After consuming cannabis, the brain has a strong reaction that makes a person feel hungry. The results point to the compounds found in marijuana that stimulate the appetite and can even transform the feeling of fullness into an insatiable need for food.
“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead,” said Tamas Horvath, the researcher who led the study. “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.”
The insatiable urge to feed is caused by the activation of CB1R, a cannabinoid receptor that triggers hunger.
“By observing how the appetite centre of the brain responds to marijuana, we were able to see what drives the hunger brought about by cannabis and how that same mechanism that normally turns off feeding becomes a driver of eating,” Tamas explains.
Similarly, a study conducted by scientists at the University of Bordeaux found that consuming cannabis significantly increases the ability to smell and taste food more acutely. THC stimulates receptors in the body’s olfactory bulb, which heightens sensitivity to anything that goes in your mouth. Another study has shown that cannabis acts on receptors in a region of the brain called the nucleus accumbens, a zone which increases the sensation of pleasures that comes with eating while high. This explains why everything tastes approximately 10 times better than usual when you’re stoned.
All these factors combined contribute to the delightfully gratifying post-smoke feeling of deeply craving a delicious snack to munch on. And it’s not all in your head either — that piece of pizza really does taste better after a joint.