Munchies is the term for the ferocious surge of appetite you experience after taking marijuana. And, usually, it’s always junk food you want to shove down your throat. Never things like broccoli or quinoa.
So, yeah, let’s get it out of the way first: munchies are a real thing. When people say smoking pot does not cause munchies, they are not telling the truth. What they’re telling you is a myth.
But, why is this? Is there a scientific reason why we get the munchies after smoking pot?
There are, in fact, several scientific research and studies that explain this particular effect of marijuana to our appetite.
It is the THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, which is marijuana’s active ingredient, that stimulates the appetite. A study, which was published in Nature Neuroscience in 2014, found that THC fits into receptors located in the olfactory bulb of the brains of mice and heightens these mice’s sensitivity to the smell of food and thus leads them to eat more.
According to the study, which was conducted by a team of neuroscientists from the University of Bordeaux, the main reason why using marijuana leads you to eat more is because you can simply smell and taste food more acutely.
A previous study also found that THC acts on receptors in the nucleus accumbens – a region of the brain – and increases the release of the brain’s neurotransmitter dopamine as well as the sensation of pleasure that results from eating while one is high.
There was also another research that explained that brain circuits that are normally responsible for indicating that we are full become hyperactivated by cannabinoids contained in marijuana and thus indicate hunger instead. When exposed to marijuana’s cannabinoids, these brain circuits switch from releasing a compound that increases appetite instead of suppressing it.
Ryan Vandrey, Ph.D. , a behavioral pharmacologist at Johns Hopkins, also explains that the human body naturally creates endocannabinoids, which compounds are partly responsible for signaling to you that you’re hungry – or full. These endocannabinoids interact with receptors within your body in order to indicate fullness, activate hunger, and help regulate metabolism, among others. The THC found in marijuana stimulates these endocannabinoids in your body and triggers the release of hormones, which in turn convince the brain that you are starving, even if you are full.
Technically speaking, there may be different scientific explanations for the weed munchies, but what ties them together is the fact that they all involve the brain’s mechanisms and the fact that THC manipulates certain responses that have to do with our senses and our appetite.
But why always the munchies for the fatty, calorie-filled food?
Many wonder why those who ingest marijuana always reach for the high-fat and high-calorie stuff instead of the organic and healthy ones. Vandrey says that this may just be due to our body’s adaptive mechanisms, wherein if it thinks it is starving, it wants to aim for high-impact food capable of giving you the amount of energy boost you want.
Are the munchies a good thing or a bad thing?
The surge in appetite that is caused by ingesting marijuana is considered to be beneficial for people who use it for medical purposes, especially those who have trouble eating as a result of chemotherapy.
Cancer patients who undergo chemotherapy dramatically lose weight and suffer from vomiting and nausea. And because they don’t have the appetite to eat, they also become weak. Marijuana, in this case, is a good equalizer, and the boost it gives the appetite helps ensure that patients also have the energy they need to effectively go through treatment and battle the disease.
For those who use marijuana recreationally, the munchies may be something enjoyable. The only downside is that it may bring about unwanted pounds.