While there isn’t a significant amount of scientific research surrounding the medicinal effects of cannabis, there’s a great body of knowledge out there that comes solely from user experience. And when considering the side effects we hear about consistently — in movies, in the media, and even in the medical space — one in particular comes to mind: that insatiable case of the munchies. So, why does weed make you hungry?
Not only do we know about “the munchies” from their prevalence in the overarching conversation about cannabis, both for recreational and medical use, but it’s also actually one of the few processes that’s been monitored in formal research. Findings from a neurobiologist at the Yale University School of Medicine shed light on the science behind the hunger.
The study, by researcher Tamas Horvath, tells us that marijuana makes you hungry in a couple of ways. First, there’s the reaction that takes place in the area of your brain that causes you to feel hungry or full. This sensation of being hungry or full is controlled by cannabinoids, lipids naturally produced in the brain. Similar to these natural cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (or THC, a cannabinoid found in marijuana) reacts with the cannabinoid system and confuses the body’s ability to tell you it’s full. Essentially, when cannabis is smoked or ingested, the THC triggers users to feel hungry, even if they’ve just eaten.
In addition to preventing one from feeling full, studies have shown that THC sends the olfactory receptors, which are responsible for taste and smell, into hyperdrive. When one’s senses of taste and smell are intensified, so is the enjoyment of eating. In other words, if you thought that pizza you had for dinner last night was incredible, just imagine eating it after taking a puff or two.
Using the munchies to your advantage
It’s no secret that cannabis is known for making users crave junk food — just think, Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle is an entire movie about two stoners who just really want some soggy, square-shaped burgers.
But for many folks who are moderate users or self-medicating for specific purposes, the munchies may prove to be a real struggle. Instead of wondering "why does weed make you hungry?," these people may instead be thinking "how do you control the munchies?"
Here are a few steps to consider before toking if you’re trying to maintain a healthy (less gut-bomby) lifestyle:
Time your meals appropriately: One of the few things we know about the effects of marijuana use in a pretty definitive way is that it’s probably going to make you hungry, regardless of whether or not you have just eaten a meal. So if you plan to smoke or use an edible, try and time it before you eat. If you’re not able to time an entire meal around your plan to use a cannabis product, plan a snack and see item 2 below.
Keep your favorite healthy foods available: Maybe you use cannabis to sleep and you don’t want a huge meal right before bed. Healthy snacks can do the trick! Do you love guacamole? Maybe you have a sweet tooth and would prefer a smoothie. Go ahead and whip up a batch of one of your favorite snacks before you partake in using a cannabis product. That way, it’s at the ready when your mind starts to wander to that juicy cheeseburger. After all, what we do know is that no matter what you’re eating, cannabis will intensify the flavor. In other words: As long as it’s a food you enjoy already, you’re definitely going to love it when the THC kicks in.
Explore a variety of strains: Certain strains of cannabis are less likely to cause the munchies than others, and there are some that even have appetite suppressant qualities. However, the specific effects can vary from person to person, so it’s important to test out a variety of strains to see how exactly they’ll work for you.
But, first things first. Before wondering "why does weed make you hungry?," you've got to get ahold of some top quality cannabis. And we know exactly where you can find some (wink, wink).