There’s probably no more defining a characteristic of cannabis — besides, of course, getting “high” — than cannabis’s ability to produce a voracious appetite in users. But have you ever considered exactly what causes the munchies? It’s a mystery to most of us. But thanks to the diligent work of cannabis researchers, we have a plausible explanation.
The munchies can be a godsend for patients suffering from a severe loss of appetite caused by chemotherapy, HIV-induced wasting syndrome, or any other malady causing appetite loss.
For recreational users, it’s a bit of a double-edged sword. For most of us, after we get high, cannabis can increase the pleasure of many activities, particularly sex and food. However, for those of us trying to mind our waistlines, the munchies can frustrate our efforts to maintain a slim physique.
The exact root causes of why cannabis — or more specifically, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — causes the munchies has long been a mystery not only to users but to scientists. In recent years, however, research has brought us closer to unraveling the mystery. And it has a lot to do with the endocannabinoid system, our body’s endocannabinoid system.
Is the Endocannabinoid System What Causes the Munchies?
The endocannabinoid system is one of our body’s most important biological systems. If the term sounds a lot like cannabis, that’s no coincidence. “Endo” is short for “endogenous,” which refers to anything that naturally occurs within the body. And “cannabinoid” is derived from the word “cannabis.” Cannabinoids are the compounds in cannabis that can produce therapeutic effects, or in the case of THC, therapeutic and psychoactive effects. Essentially, the endocannabinoid system is our body’s natural cannabis system.
The important role of the endocannabinoid system can’t be understated. It’s responsible for maintaining homeostasis. Homeostasis, as you may remember from biology class, refers to maintaining stability and balance in the body irrespective of what’s going on in one’s external environment. To maintain homeostasis involves numerous functions in the body, chiefly among them pain, smell, and hunger.
The first study to explain the relationship between cannabis, the endocannabinoid system, and hunger was published in the prestigious scientific journal, Nature. A team of researchers from the University of Bordeaux conducted a study on mice that found the CB1 cannabinoid receptor caused mice to increase their food intake by heightening their smell senses.
The team lead by Giovanni Marsicano explains:
“Local pharmacological and genetic manipulations revealed that endocannabinoids and exogenous cannabinoids increased odor detection and food intake in fasted mice by decreasing excitatory drive from olfactory cortex areas to the MOB.”
Breaking it Down
At the risk of nerd-splaining, let’s translate that into layperson’s terms. The reason you get the munchies after you get high is that THC heightens your ability to taste and smell, which makes eating much more enjoyable.
The researchers suggest the reason THC has this ability is that it fits neatly into receptors in the endocannabinoid system that control our memory, emotions, sensitivity to pain, and appetite. Our brains already produce their own cannabinoids, called endocannabinoids, that do this. But, THC mimics this ability, but in a way that dramatically exaggerates our senses.
What do you think? Are there particular strains that give you the munchies? Are there foods you like to pair with certain strains? Let us know in the comments! And don’t forget to stop by your favorite Have a Heart location to stock up!