It might be a tired old marijuana stereotype, but weed really does give you the munchies. For some medical cannabis patients, a renewed appetite is the goal but for many of us, its an unfortunate side effect of cannabis consumption.
You know that feeling right? Like a sense of non-negotiable hunger for anything savoury, sweet, crunchy, chewy... I'm hungry right now. How about you?
But why dear God? Why? My favourite plant, giver of euphoria, life lessons, creativity and giggle fits is also the reason my butt got big. If the only draw back to cannabis is getting the munchies then I had better learn what causes the cravings how to manage them.
Increased Dopamine and Appetite Stimulus
You can blame the cannabinoid THC for creating a sense of hunger - even if you've recently eaten. Not too long ago a team of Neuroscientists found that the mice in their lab were showing signs of hunger after being exposed to THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis. The thinking goes like this: THC produces an uptick in the release of Dopamine and the production of an appetite stimulating hormone called Ghrelin and inhibits the appetite-suppressing hormone Leptin. When your body senses a decrease in energy stores it signals to the brain that you need fuel a.k.a. food. Now you feel hungry because Ghrelin acts on the hypothalamus to increase hunger and at the same time, helps prepare your gastro intestinal tract for delivery of food. It does this by increasing gastric acid production and motility which pretty much means that your digesting food faster meanwhile Leptin isn't doing its job which is to tell your stomach and brain to calm the heck down.
Increased Sense of Smell
Adding to the sense of hunger is your sense of smell. Cannabis significantly increases our ability to smell food, making it seem that much more tantalizing. Cannabis's cannabinoids - THC specifically - targets your brain's olfactory bulbs and other receptors in your brain that are part of the natural endocannabinoid system causing you to smell and taste more acutely than is typical. These heightened senses help to stimulate your appetite. On top of that, our brains reward us with a feeling of euphoria when we give in to our munchies, making it seem pretty easy and awesome to go for another handful of M&Ms or Cheetos.
The key to not overeating or at least not eating too much of the crap your body doesn't need is being prepared. If you know that you will succumb to a wicked case of the munchies make sure you have plenty of water, healthy crackers and cut up fruit and vegetables on hand. Treat yourself to some yummy dips like hummus and tzatziki - which will really blow your mind when your hyped up taste buds get a piece of the action. Keep organic popcorn on hand to make and serve with sea salt, hot sauce or nutritional yeast (it tastes like parmesan and will change your life - trust me).
Preparation is critical, in the heat of a craving you won't want to put down that pizza slice to go make a salad but if you have a delicious salad ready you'll be less tempted to go for the greasy or sugary option.
This article is a pretty high level view of why cannabis makes us feel hungry. If you'd like to dive a little deeper we recommend the following links: