This is why you get the munchies when you smoke weed
We took a look at some of the research behind the munchies to see what’s going on in the brain.
Photo courtesy of HEXvua Getty Images
The munchies are a weed smoking staple. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you smoke, vape, or eat edibles, cannabis makes you hungry. This “side effect” helps many people with nausea and lack of appetite. Plus, there are certain strains and cannabinoids that increase or decrease appetite, depending on your needs.
But what causes this classic cannabis conundrum? Neuroscientists at Yale University think they’ve it figured out, so we looked at their research and some previous studies to see why weed makes us hungry.
What causes the munchies?
The best answer for the munchies we currently have comes from a 2015 study. Neuroscientists at Yale School of Medicine looked at how the appetite center of the brain responds to cannabis in mice. What they found was confusing at first. It seemed as though the neurons that usually told the brain it was full were now telling it the opposite – that it was starving.
Those neurons are called pro-opiomelanocortin, or POMC, and one of their main jobs is to reduce eating when full. But researchers found that cannabis can “trick” these neurons, essentially “flipping a biochemical switch” to make POMC do the opposite of what it was intended.
“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead,” said lead author, Tamas Horvath, in a statement. “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.”
This mechanism, where cannabis “fools” neurons into doing something completely opposite than intended, is especially interesting because no other compounds are known to have this effect. More research is needed to confirm this finding, but it’s fascinating, to say the least.
Furthermore, a 2014 study also looked at cannabis and the munchies and had another surprising finding. These researchers discovered THC promoted food intake by increasing odor detection. They found that stimulating CB1 receptors with THC increased sensitivity to smells and therefore, increased feeding in hungry mice.
Benefits of the munchies
The authors of that 2014 study thought the interaction between CB1 receptors and the brain’s olfaction center might be a viable treatment for those with eating disorders. But, “the munchies” help many who experience loss of appetite and nausea for different reasons.
One of the first groups of people who fought for the right to use cannabis for medical reasons were cancer patients. They explained that chemo-therapy treatment made them feel so nauseous it was hard to stomach food and keep meals down. Only one thing helped– smoking weed. In the early 90’s, patients with HIV/AIDS, especially in California, also fought for their right to use medical cannabis for similar reasons. Cannabis increased the appetites of those with HIV/AIDS and helped keep other symptoms at bay. These two groups of medical patients are one of the main reasons California passed the nation’s first medical cannabis law in 1996.
Now, over 20 years later, people with many different medical conditions are turning to cannabis to help increase their appetite, including:
- Crohn’s Disease
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- Other gastrointestinal issues
- Anxiety and Depression
- Eating Disorders
- Side effects from other medications
Which cannabis strains give you the munchies?
Most cannabis strains will give you the munchies, but if you’re specifically looking to increase your appetite, here are some strains to check out:
CBD for appetite
THC may not be the only cannabinoid that causes the munchies. CBD, the second most common cannabinoid in our favorite herb, has many of the same medical benefits as THC, without the psychoactive “high.” Although the munchies are much less intense, many who use CBD oil daily describe an increase in appetite. In fact, many taking CBD for other reasons also report eating more, as well as sleeping better, and having an increased sense of “wellbeing.”
Many seniors are turning to CBD for this reason. It’s very common for seniors to lose their appetites with age, but some become dangerously thin because of it. Plus, side effects from other medications can cause loss of appetite, as well as nausea and dizziness. But taking CBD oil is helping many seniors eat a healthy amount, without getting them high, or really giving them the munchies.
Don’t want to get the munchies after smoking weed?
That’s okay too. Although there is data to suggest that regular weed smokers are skinnier than their non-pot consuming counterparts, there are some things you can do to avoid stuffing your face with Doritos, chocolate, and sour patch kids (in that order).
For one, look for strains high in the cannabinoids THCV and THCVA. Popular in California and hailed as “skinny weed,” many people report that this psychoactive compound decreases appetite instead of increasing it. However, be careful if you’re prone to anxiety. While THCV can also be energizing, some people with anxiety disorders find THCV increases their anxiety rather than decreases it. However, if you’re looking for “skinny weed,” check out these strains: