Fraser Horton
Fraser Horton
Last Updated on April 10, 2022

If you’ve ever tried cannabis, you’ve probably experienced the munchies. It’s that feeling when you are ravenously hungry after consuming cannabis – and you feel as if you could eat a burger, fries, dessert, and all the soda you can drink. So, if you’ve watched the movie Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, you probably know what we mean by this. 

But have you ever thought about why people feel hungry after consuming marijuana? We’ll discuss the reason for the hunger from a biological and a scientific point in the following paragraphs. So, if you want to learn why you feel like raiding the fridge after smoking a joint, read on.

What Triggers Hunger?

Let’s first explain what triggers the sense of hunger in the body. The sense of hunger is a two-part process. The change happens depending on the energy stores inside the body, more specifically, whether there’s a decrease or an excess in energy stores.

When the body experiences a deficit in energy stores, the hormone ghrelin is released by the GI tract, and that hormone stimulates the hypothalamus in the brain, which results in the person experiencing hunger. The hormone also impacts the part of the brain that helps release dopamine.

When the body experiences an excess of energy stores, the fat cells in the body release the hormone leptin that stimulates the hypothalamus and inhibits hunger. The leptin stops the effects of anandamide which binds to the same receptors in the brain such as THC, so the less leptin that the body produces, the more hungry you feel. 

Why Does Weed Make You Hungry? 

According to scientists, the cannabinoid that is responsible for the case of the munchies is tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain after the consumption of marijuana. The cannabinoid targets the brain’s olfactory bulbs which heightens the sense of smell, taste, and consequently, appetite. According to a 2015 study, the THC tricks the brain into thinking you’re extremely hungry by switching up how the hypothalamus works. 

In fact, the brain is tricked to produce the chemical that says you’re hungry which was also the subject of a 2014 study published in Nature Neuroscience. The study suggested that people do, in fact, eat more food after cannabis consumption since weed affects their sense of smell and taste and makes it more sensitive.

According to Tamas Horvath, the neurons that sent the message to the hypothalamus give the wrong command. It’s as if you were stepping on the brake in the car, but the car is accelerating rather than stopping. So, the neurons give the signal that you’re hungry even though that isn’t the case, meaning, cannabis stimulates the production of ghrelin and your appetite instantly increases.

The Sense of Smell

Another reason for the munchies is the increased sense of smell which is a side effect of cannabis consumption. This means that the food will taste even better as you eat it. 

Cannabis use affects the endocannabinoid system, more specifically it affects your CB1 receptors, which enhances the taste of sucrose, hence your craving for junk food when you’re high. The CB1 receptor also affects the production of dopamine in the brain, so when it’s inhibited by cannabis, you feel an increase of dopamine when you eat foods high in sugar.

Why Is Marijuana Used as an Appetite Stimulant?

Since cannabis use often results in appetite stimulation, people have been using it as a treatment for conditions which affect their appetite. For example, cannabis was used as an aid that would help in treating medical conditions such as anorexia and cachexia (wasting symptom), and both became qualifying conditions for medical marijuana use.

Another medical condition for which cannabis was used medically is severe lack of appetite in patients suffering from cancer. According to a 2011 study, 73% of the cancer patients that were part of the study experienced an increase in appetite and enjoyed their food more. Moreover, patients who are battling with advanced cancer that experience not only a severe lack of appetite, but also burning through calories at a much faster rate, medical marijuana may stimulate an increase in calorie intake.

Not Everyone Gets the Munchies

While a lot of cannabis users get the munchies, there’s no guarantee that everyone will experience it. People who are regular users may not experience these effects as much since they’re already used to the effects of weed. 

Another reason for you not getting the munchies may be that you have fewer cannabinoid receptors in the olfactory region of the brain, so you’re less likely to feel hunger as a side effect of marijuana consumption. 

Cannabis and Weight Gain

Some regular cannabis users worry that consuming weed may cause weight gain. However, some studies have shown the opposite. In 2019, a group of researchers published their three-year study on whether cannabis causes weight gain. The results were remarkable. The subjects not only didn’t have an increased weight, but they found an inverse association between cannabis and weight gain. This led the researchers to believe that marijuana users weren’t as likely to have obesity issues compared to non-users. And even though they consume more calories, they’ll have a lower body percentage.

Does that mean that you should take up smoking weed to eat what you like and never gain weight? Definitely not! While there is some evidence that using cannabis has links to people having a lower body weight and a lower body mass index (BMI), there’s still not enough research to conclude that this applies to all cannabis users. 

It’s always best to opt for healthy snacks when you get the munchies and try out strains that are high in CBD or THCV to curb your appetite and be on the safe side when it comes to maintaining your weight.

Final Thoughts on Weed and the Munchies

It’s true that there’s a scientific basis to the claim that weed gives some people the munchies due to the effects THC has on the endocannabinoid system and the olfactory bulbs in the brain. THC also enhances the sense of taste and smell, as well as the taste of sucrose which makes you crave junk food when you’re high. So, if you’re on a weight loss journey, it may be best to avoid marijuana strains high in THC.

However, this isn’t always considered a negative side effect of marijuana consumption, especially among medical marijuana patients who have a cancer diagnosis or are suffering from anorexia or wasting syndrome. In such cases, marijuana is used as an appetite enhancer that helps these patients get back their sense of hunger. Over time, weed helps them improve their calorie intake.

Finally, there’s no one way to look at how cannabis affects appetite. In some cases when the user is on a weight loss journey and wants to use cannabis, they may benefit from using strains that are lower in THC, and keep healthy snacks on hand that will ideally keep them away from junk food. In other cases, cannabis acts as an appetite enhancer in people who use the plant medicinally. And that’s the beauty of marijuana, there are a lot of different strains that offer a wide array of effects that can fit the needs of every user.

Disclaimer

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