Even if you only have some vague knowledge of the benefits of medical marijuana – and only passing familiarity with cannabis culture – you will almost certainly have heard of the munchies.
It’s been the feature of comedy movie classics and funny bar anecdotes alike for decades. But only recently has the scientific study of the “marijuana munchies” started to catch up with the popular understanding.
In the process of doing so, these studies have found out some highly interesting things about the relationship between cannabis and appetite.
If you ever struggle with your appetite – or you know someone who does – this might be some very good news for you…
So, why do you get hungry when smoking weed? Are there actually any medical benefits of the munchies?
In this article, we’ll find out:
Why does weed give you the munchies?
“The munchies” is the slang term which describes the appetite-boosting effect which consuming marijuana often leads to.
The main component of cannabis responsible for this reaction is THC. THC, more properly called tetrahydrocannabinol, is one of 113 cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant (a cannabinoid being a type of organic compound).
THC is best known as the cause of marijuana’s psychoactive effect. That is to say, it is the main reason you get “high” when you consume cannabis.
But it is also the reason you may experience a craving for more calorie intake after using marijuana.
The science behind the cravings
When you consume cannabis, the cannabinoids found inside can bind with the endocannabinoid receptors in your body. You can think of your body’s endocannabinoid system working as locks, for which the cannabinoids are the key.
Your body naturally produces its own endocannabinoids to produce certain effects. These might include regulating mood or – more importantly in this case – appetite.
Cannabinoids produced externally from your body – such as those from cannabis – can also enhance or suppress those interactions. When cannabis locks onto the endocannabinoid receptors in the brain, those basic functions – regulation of emotion, feeding behavior, pain regulation and sense of smell and taste – can be activated or deactivated again.
For example, they might make you feel hungry when your body might not normally tell you that you need to eat.
Marijuana may also stimulate the release of a hormone called ghrelin, which in turn stimulates hunger.
Why does food taste better when you’re high?
Some of those “basic functions” which the endocannabinoid system can – in a sense – control, are your sense of taste and smell.
In fact, binding to those receptors in the olfactory bulb (an area of your brain), THC seems to enhance a person’s ability to smell and taste.
But this link between THC and appetite goes further. There is evidence which shows the THC in cannabis also stimulates the release of dopamine. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain which can:
- Increase the pleasure you experience when eating.
- Lower inhibitions which may normally stop you eating at a certain point, or prevent you from eating too much of a food you know is unhealthy.
THC also seems to stop your body “knowing” that it is full. It may stimulate neurons that would otherwise “deactivate” as you progress towards being properly satiated by food
Does sativa or indica make you hungry?
It’s almost always a mistake to lump all indica and all sativa cannabis strains into two different camps.
When you go into your local marijuana dispensary, it’s always a good idea to shop by the effects you want to create – pain relief, stress relief, help getting a good night’s sleep, for example – rather than thinking about what strain you want to buy.
In the case that the effect you are looking to create is to promote appetite, you will almost certainly be looking for a strain which has higher THC levels.
While it’s a very broad generalization to say that indica strains have higher THC content, it’s one which isn’t always true. Or at least, one that’s not true to a very noticeable extent.
As always, it’s better to ask your budtender to see what they recommend to produce the effect that you want. Don’t make the mistake of assuming “indica strains have more THC, ergo they will stimulate my appetite more.”
Why does smoking weed make you hungry? What about edibles?
It’s common – and now proven scientific – knowledge that smoking weed makes you hungry. But what about eating cannabis in edible form? Perhaps in a cookie or brownie?
In general, the way you’re consuming cannabis isn’t that important. As long as the THC can enter your bloodstream, you will experience the effects.
Minimizing the munchies with edibles
However, when using edibles it is possible that you can reduce the power of the munchies you experience by consuming your edibles just after you’ve eaten a full meal.
Eating edibles when you already have the munchies
If you have already consumed sufficient cannabis to experience the munchies, it’s almost certainly a bad idea to make more cannabis in edible form part of your snack.
A serious overdose of marijuana, with the attendant anxiety, paranoia, speeding heart rate, increased blood pressure and even nausea and vomiting it might include, is not
If you already have the munchies, why not aim for eating something vaguely healthy instead. Otherwise, you risk…
The dangers of eating too much
We’ll move on to the many reasons why stimulating appetite can be helpful for large numbers of people in a minute.
But first, it’s worth going over the fact that eating too much isn’t good for you. Nor is eating the kind of high-sugar, high-calorie, fatty snack foods which the munchies often encourage you to indulge in.
If you use marijuana to help manage your mood or for stress relief, it’s important not to forget the possibly unwanted appetite-enhancing effects you might experience at the same time.
Plus, if you already struggle with your weight, the way you experience the munchies is likely to be heightened. Your brain is already well practiced in releasing more dopamine than normal in an eating situation. As a result, you may experience more intense munchies than someone who maintains a healthy weight.
Healthy munchies snacks
Just because your appetite is heightened, it’s no reason to fill up on chocolate, candy, chips, ice cream and other unhealthy foods.
Not only is eating these foods more than once in a while a bad idea if you want to maintain a healthy weight, they can also lead to spikes and drops in your blood sugar levels. This can also increase the cravings you experience.
Instead, why not plan ahead a little and stock up on some tasty snacks which tick the healthy box too. You might try:
- Crudites (these are traditional French appetizers probably better known in the US as veggie sticks. Simply cut some carrots, cucumber, bell peppers, celery – whatever you fancy – into sticks and use them for dipping)
- Tortilla chips
- Low-fat dip
It’s all good munchies stuff. With the added advantage that it’s a little bit better for you than a plate of pizza and brownies.
“Types” of hunger – periods, pregnancy and the munchies
It’s important to note that there are different physiological reasons for experiencing hunger:
- 1. The munchies – are caused by THC interacting with your endocannabinoid system and stimulating dopamine and ghrelin production.
- 2. The menstrual cycle – the reason why some women get very hungry during changes in their menstrual cycle is mainly related to hormonal changes, specifically relating to the hormone progesterone.
- 3. Pregnancy – is a little different in that the human body needs to increase fat reserves and support the fetus. This can lead to an increased appetite, which may also be boosted by higher progesterone levels.
So, answers to questions about why marijuana makes you hungry have very different answers to other reasons you may experience hunger.
Could marijuana STOP you eating too much?
Marijuana, and more particularly the THC it contains, is best known as an appetite stimulant. But THC is only one of the 113 total cannabinoid chemicals currently known to exist within the cannabis plant.
Another of these is THVC, or more properly, tetrahydrocannabivarin.
THVC may actually work as an appetite suppressant. There are currently several studies being conducted on it and several growers are trying to breed strains of marijuana with higher than normal THVC levels.
This anti-THC works on the same endocannabinoid receptors as THC. But instead of being an agonist of them, it is an antagonist.
There are some concerns that high levels of THVC may lead to depressive effects (a drug called rimonabant which worked on similar principles was known to). Yet it still may offer some hope for people searching for appetite suppressants.
The medical benefits of marijuana and appetite stimulation
If you have a medical need to increase your appetite, medical marijuana can be the answer to your prayers.
Whether struggling with cancer treatments which result in reduced appetite, HIV treatments which may lead to the same, or any number of immune or dietary problems, many people and physicians have turned to cannabis to gain some hunger stimulation.
Other medications might lead to unpleasant side-effects or lead to other problems later on down the line. But the munchies, itself often considered a side-effect of using marijuana for its anti-inflammation or pain-relieving qualities – can be a benefit in and of themselves.
So in the end, the question “why do you get the munchies?” may be less important from a medical standpoint than the fact that people do and they can. And that the effect can be used to help people who are very sick eat when they really need to.