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The phenomenon of the munchies is not unknown to anyone who smokes pot. In fact, even those who might only have a general idea about the stoner lifestyle are also very much aware of this singular sensation caused by cannabis, thanks to the countless references that have been made about it in popular culture and in works of art.
Having the munchies is when you get hungry after smoking weed or consuming cannabis edibles. Given that marijuana is known for affecting parts of our brain that regulate feelings of satiety and hunger, it was perhaps only natural for people to wonder about the possible effects that cannabis could have on people’s weight. As it turns out, the herb is actually being investigated by researchers for its effects on appetite stimulation and weight gain. Brace yourselves, for smoking pot and cooking with marijuana is not just about the high—it’s also a science lesson.
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Which brings us back to the munchies. As you may already know, tetrahydrocannabinol or THC is weed’s primary psychoactive compound. In a nutshell, the munchies occur as a result of THC and other cannabinoids stimulating the brain, which lead to a powerful upwelling of appetite. At least, that’s our general understanding of it. However, up until recently, we didn’t really fully understand the exact mechanism involved in this stimulation.
Then, 3 years ago in 2014, a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience proffered a possible explanation. As reported by the Smithsonian Magazine, a team of researchers from the University of Bordeaux in France discovered that THC drastically increased lab mice’s ability to smell food by fitting into the olfactory bulb of the animals’ brains. It turned out the mice were encouraged to eat more because they were able to smell their food better and more acutely.
The effect of cannabis on the mice’s appetite is in congruence with how consumption of the herb affects brain function in humans. In people, the herbs’ psychoactive compounds disturb perception, mood, memory, consciousness, and bodily functions like appetite by binding into the brain’s endocannabinoid system, which is also responsible for regulating these cognitive and physiological processes. Evolutionarily, the cannabis may have developed these compounds as a form of defense mechanism against animals that may try to eat it. By causing disorientation in a herbivore, the plant can prevent itself from being eaten further, thus increasing its chances of survival.
In another study published more recently in 2017 in the journal Nature, researchers from Yale University and the University of Leipzig in Germany also noted how neurons called POMCs might also play a role in marijuana’s appetite-stimulating effects.
Found in the hypothalamus of the brains of lab mice (and people), POMCs normally release a chemical called alpha-MSH, which regulates feelings of satiety. However, as reported by Vice Magazine, the researchers discovered that when POMCs were exposed to cannabinoids, the neurons instead released a chemical a called beta-endorphins. This chemical fuels appetite and enhances feelings of cravings.
As these studies explore two different processes, it points to the possibility that the mechanism by which marijuana stimulates appetite is more complex than originally thought.
That marijuana has such a potent effect on the brain also makes it one of the most powerful appetite stimulants in the natural world. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of two drugs—dronabinol and nabilone—which are made from synthetic forms of ingredients found in marijuana. Apart from being used to treat chronic pain, these drugs are also used to treat nausea and to stimulate appetite in patients with acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) as well as those with wasting syndrome or cachexia. They are also used by cancer patients who have decreased appetite due to being exposed to treatments like chemotherapy.
Many people who are in good health also consume marijuana in order to stimulate their appetites, particularly if they simply want to gain more weight. But does it work? According to at least one scientific study, these people may actually be on to something.
In a 2016 study published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, it was revealed that marijuana consumption could actually help you gain weight. As reported by Live Science, the more often the people in the study smoked pot, the more pounds they put on over time. This is among the participants who smoked cannabis regularly but did not smoke cigarettes.
But aside from this discovery, the researchers from the University of Montreal in Canada had a few other interesting findings. They noted, for instance, that pot smokers who were also tobacco smokers gained less weight than their non-tobacco-smoking counterparts. They explained that nicotine’s capability to decrease appetite may offset the appetite-stimulating benefits of marijuana.
However, they also found out that the same wasn’t true for pot- and tobacco-smoking women when compared to women who only smoked pot. Meaning to say, the former did not gain less weight compared to the latter. One possible explanation for this observation about the women participants was that hormonal factors during menstruation cycles could also affect marijuana’s mechanism of appetite-stimulation.
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Marijuana is not just a recreational herb, it’s a drug that affects our cognition and physiology in complex ways that we’re only beginning to understand. Based on current studies, cannabis appears to be a promising treatment that could help with appetite and weight loss caused by medical conditions. It can also help stimulate appetite in healthier individuals, giving them the chance to achieve the healthy weight they desire. Before to use cannabis, we recommend to consult with your doctor to understand how it can help you with your weight gain goals.
CrEATe is a direct-to-consumer culinary cannabis subscription that includes world-class educational materials, high-end oils, and exclusive chef-curated recipes. Embark on a transformative culinary journey.
In this eBook, we will be going through everything you need to know about culinary cannabis and how to enjoy this versatile herb responsibly.