All marijuana users are well aware of the munchies: that irresistibly powerful craving for food that comes on the heels of a good high. Whether or not you still experience them, the munchies have likely played a significant role in your life as a marijuana user.
The reason why munchies occur has long been a mystery, but science just got one step closer to discovering why a pizza or a cheeseburger tastes so darn good while baked. In one of the most exhaustive studies of its kind ever conducted, researchers at the Yale Medical School looked into the neurological implications of marijuana use, particularly as they relate to hunger and food cravings.
Much of the munchies-inducing effects of weed can be traced to the stimulating action of CB1R on pro-opiomelanocortin nerve cells or POMC. A cannabinoid receptor, CB1R works on the POMC in the hypothalamus region of the brain, which is responsible for regulating instincts such as hunger and sexual arousal.
Cannabinoids interact with brain receptors
Interestingly enough, POMC neurons are themselves responsible for quelling appetite rather than encouraging it, typically telling your brain that you have had enough food. When coming into contact with cannabinoids however, POMC neurons kick into overdrive. Then, remarkably enough, they make a 180° turn and stimulate the appetite.
There are other factors that contribute to the munchies, some related to the actions of CB1 receptors as well. European scientists have discovered that marijuana has a particularly pronounced effect on the olfactory bulb, increasing its odor-detection capabilities. This itself has the effect of encouraging appetite.
Of course, there is no denying that the tastes and oral sensations resulting from the use of marijuana can be very pleasurable. Unsurprisingly, this effect is down to the same CB1 receptor as well. Cannabinoids encourage the brain to produce the ‘feel-good’ chemical known as dopamine. Because the prospect of eating something you enjoy already produces significant amounts of dopamine, the extra dose provided by a good marijuana high will take you into the nether reaches of pleasurable flavor sensations.
Why is appetite stimulation important?
Over the past few years, much has been added to what was once a meager body of knowledge on the munchies and the factors that drive it. Why this growing focus on the munchies? Why is it so important to learn about them?
Given the increasing shift toward legalization all over the United States, marijuana’s health-beneficial effects have come into pronounced focus. Already used for the treatment of a number of diseases, and as a safe way to deal with the side effects of cancer and AIDS medications, marijuana is also getting more attention as a sleep and appetite inducer. With the newfound knowledge on marijuana as it pertains to the munchies, we may be one step closer to the development of a marijuana-based medication that can be of significant benefit to cancer patients suffering from greatly reduced appetite.
Of course, there is a downside to the munchies as well. The type of sedentary lifestyle it encourages does not bode well for the cardiovascular health of chronic users. Managed effectively, however, there is no reason why the munchies shouldn’t be a normal and harmless part of the marijuana experience.