The science behind cannabis and the munchies

Numerous studies attribute increased appetite to a poor sleep schedule.

Jordan Smith - The Fresh Toast 3 minute read December 13, 2021

There’s data suggesting that THC stimulates receptors in the hypothalamus, leading to the production of the hormone ghrelin, which regulates hunger. / violet-blue / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Having access to favourite meals or snacks is essential to any successful cannabis session. Most people are familiar with the concept of getting the munchies after consuming marijuana, but why it occur still remains a mystery to many.

But despite the munchies seeming like one of life’s unsolved mysteries, there are a few scientific reasons that can explain what causes it. Here are a few factors that help explain why people get the munchies after consuming marijuana.

The role sleep plays in promoting the munchies

Want to keep the munchies at bay? Then considering making sure to get enough sleep. Numerous studies attribute increased appetite to a poor sleep schedule.

According to a 2019 study, a lack of sleep can bring on the munchies in the same way consuming marijuana can. This seems to be because sleep restriction causes increased endocannabinoid levels in the blood that leads to hunger pangs, specifically for high-calorie foods.

“We found that sleep restriction induced qualitative changes in food intake, biasing choices toward energy-dense options, without altering total calorie intake,” wrote researchers. “Our results further elaborate on the effects of sleep deprivation on the human brain, suggesting that neural processing of odours is enhanced in primary olfactory brain areas after sleep restriction,” they noted.

Taking this into consideration, getting a full night’s rest could be key to helping ward off the munchies.

THC heightens the senses

One of the many cliches about marijuana shared by cannabis enthusiasts is that, “it just makes everything better.” Research proves this idea is more than just a notion.

According to a 2014 study using mice, neuroscientists discovered that THC stimulated the brain’s olfactory bulb — the part of the brain responsible for recognizing odours — causing the mice to eat more than usual.

There’s also data that suggests THC stimulates receptors in the hypothalamus, leading to the production of the hormone ghrelin, which regulates hunger.

Marijuana reduces inhibitions

One of the key reasons people use substances such as cannabis in the first place is to experience a release of dopamine. While there are benefits to how a dopamine release can make a person feel, one drawback is that it can lower one’s inhibitions.

While decreased inhibitions are typically associated with social settings, they can also have a big impact on cravings. Lowering inhibitions means eating more of foods that perhaps shouldn’t be eaten in the first place.

Think about it. After consuming enough marijuana, knowing when to stop snacking can feel nearly impossible to some.

The reason why is because dopamine controls the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. Once enough THC has been consumed, it can be tough to tell oneself “enough is enough,” particularly when it comes to favourite foods.

So the next time a person is in the middle of a smoke session with friends and the munchies hit, he or she will be able to offer an explanation as to why it’s happening. While that may not make the munchies go away, at least it might provide a distraction until able to satisfy those cravings.

The FreshToast.com, a U.S. lifestyle site that contributes lifestyle content and, with their partnership with 600,000 physicians via Skipta, medical marijuana information to The GrowthOp.

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