If you have taken pot, you are most probably familiar with the munchies that come with it. All of a sudden, you are emptying packets and containers and heading back and forth from the fridge. Have you ever wondered why does weed make you hungry?
There several explanations for this, but first, it is important to understand what triggers hunger and a ravenous appetite in human beings. This will also shed some light on why cannabis is now being incorporated in the treatment of cancer-related cachexia.
A probably overused illustration is that of refueling a car. But since it drives home the point, allow me to use it yet again.
Picture yourself driving a car. When the gas level goes low, and the light turns red, you are prompted to stop at a gas station and refuel. Once you refuel, the fuel gauge moves up and farther away from the red light.
The same happens to your body. When your calorie level is low, the brain is triggered to induce a feeling of hunger.
This feeling of hunger triggers the release of a special hormone called ghrelin that stimulates appetite, and you are alerted that you need to eat. Once you have had enough food, a different hormone called leptin is triggered by the hypothalamus. This induces a feeling of satiety, and you stop eating.
Nothing explains this better than a study conducted by Tamas Horvath, a neurobiologist at Yale University School of Medicine, and his colleagues.
In this model, Hovarth and his team observed the behavior of mice subjected to hunger. 50% were given cannabis, while 50% were not. The mice that had been given cannabis continued to eat even when they were full, not being able to tell that they were full.
The scientists concluded that cannabis interfered with how the hormone leptin was activated. Instead of signaling the brain that satiety had been achieved, it did quite the opposite. The very hormones that should signal your brain to stop eating become the same drivers for hunger.
Another theory postulates that cannabis also sensitizes the olfactory bulb's receptors, making the smell of food more potent and appealing.
Lastly, it is a known fact that cannabis causes the release of the feel-good hormone dopamine. This increases the pleasure associated with eating food and also lowers inhibitions. So when you would ideally know when to say stop, when under the influence of pot, you keep eating any and everything that comes your way. It may not be as simplistic as that, but that is a general idea.
Is this a good thing or a bad thing?
It all depends on where you are coming from.
If being overweight and obese is a constant worry for you, you need to be cautious. You could prepare in advance to have all your high-calorie snacks locked away and only have the bare minimums within arm’s reach.
But all hope is not lost. This study discovered that people who consume cannabis developed a smaller waist to hip ratio than people who did not. This is probably attributed to an increase in the metabolism rate among cannabis consumers.
For some people, such as those receiving chemotherapy, appetite is often a big problem. Cannabis has been shown to help not only in stimulating the feeling of hunger but also in preventing nausea and vomiting. This makes it much easier for the patients to retain what they eat.
Studies investigating the use of cannabis in treating cancer-related cachexia are underway, but if cannabis is effective in inducing the munchies, it might equally show positive results with revving up the appetites of cancer patients.
- The Guardian: Reefer research, cannabis 'munchies' explained by the new study. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/feb/18/study-on-why-cannabis-kicks-in-urge-to-eat-could-help-create-new-drugs-to-control-appetite
- Endocannabinoid Signaling in Neural Circuits of the Olfactory and Limbic System (2016). Retrieved from https://www.intechopen.com/books/cannabinoids-in-health-and-disease/endocannabinoid-signaling-in-neural-circuits-of-the-olfactory-and-limbic-system#B3
- NCBI (2016): Pharmacokinetics of Cannabis in Cancer Cachexia-Anorexia Syndrome. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26883879