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How Can Cannabis Use Affect Your Eating Habits?

“The munchies” has been referenced so frequently in pop culture that even non-consumers of cannabis know about it and what it means. Supposedly, it’s what happens after a user consumes weed: it’s the strong, sudden urge to get something to eat, for no other particular reason. Interestingly, the effect remains the same, whether you smoke a joint or consume cannabis edibles.

 The question is: Why does cannabis have this effect on human beings?

 Believe it or not, despite the occurrence of increased hunger pangs after cannabis use appearing in historical records over the past few centuries, there has been no definitive answer to that seemingly simple question — until fairly recently, that is.

As a matter of fact, it was only in the early 1970s when researchers decided to look into the relationship between cannabis consumption and increased appetite. The findings of this research revealed that there is, indeed, a correlation between cannabis consumption and the urge to eat. Furthermore, scientists also learned that there was a connection between weed and the palatability of the food.

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So why does cannabis affect appetite?

To better understand how and why cannabis affects eating behavior, it would be helpful to know exactly what it is in weed that causes this effect in the first place.

There are plenty cannabinoids, or chemicals unique to cannabis, found in the plant. Among these, the most well-known is the same one responsible for the plant’s psychoactive effects on humans: delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or Δ9-THC. When the cannabinoids reach the nervous system and interact with the body’s receptors, they bring about a host of changes in the user, depending on which of the various types of cannabinoids will bond with which receptor.

CB1, the receptor associated with appetite regulation, is also typically associated with weed use. Imagine it functioning as an on-off switch that can trigger the feeling of hunger upon bonding with THC. CB1 has been spotted in the hypothalamus and hind brain (where food intake is controlled), the brain’s reward center, inside the stomach and intestinal tissue, and even the limbic forebrain.

Additionally, the THC in cannabis has been found to affect the receptors in the nucleus accumbens (which results in the increased release of dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure) and the hypothalamus (causing more ghrelin, the hunger-stimulating hormone, to be released).

Cannabis and… heightened senses?

According to some fairly recent findings, cannabis may also have a significant effect on our senses of taste and smell, allowing us to appreciate food more (leading to us consuming it in greater quantities). Again, this is because of the cannabinoids’ effects on the body’s receptors. These results were observed in the mice that were part of the study; if this holds true for human beings, then cannabis consumption may also allow us to taste and detect flavors more accurately and enjoy them on an entirely different level.

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Munchies after cannabis: A case-by-case basis

Interestingly, not all cannabis consumers experience this. According to Professor Jan Copeland, Director of The National Cannabis Prevention and Information Centre in Australia, the munchies side-effect depends on the dosage or amount consumed. That is, if a person has been consuming cannabis for an extended period of time and in regularly large amounts, the hunger pangs would no longer be a problem. The munchies phenomenon is more commonly observed in people who are occasional or recreational users.