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Why do you get the ‘munchies’ when you smoke cannabis?

“Mine’s a really simple question – why do people get the ‘munchies’ when they smoke cannabis?”    

No matter how cannabis is used – whether it’s smoked, vaped or eaten in a cookie – one of the most commonly reported side effects by those who use the drug is increased appetite. This sudden onset of hunger, often resulting in visits to the refrigerator and late-night convenience stores, as well as calls to online food delivery services is better known as ‘the munchies’. In most cases, this involves consuming very high-calories foods. Carrot sticks and lettuce leaves are not what you’re after, you want lollies and ice cream – sweet and fatty foods.

Historical sources indicate that as early as 300BC people knew that cannabis stimulated appetite but it is only relatively recently that research has discovered why the phenomenon actually occurs.

The cannabis plant contains around 500 different chemicals, with at least 100 of these creating its unique effects. These compounds are called cannabinoids.  The main active ingredient in cannabis is called delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, commonly known as THC. This is the compound that’s mostly responsible for the changes in the mood, thoughts, perceptions and behaviour of a person who uses the drug, i.e., THC is what causes a person to feel ‘stoned’.

When THC is consumed, it activates a cannabinoid receptor in the body called CB1, which in turn increases appetite. It’s believed to do this in a number of ways, with different studies identifying a range of reasons for this effect. One study suggests that people eat more food after using cannabis because the THC causes them to smell and taste it more intensely, increasing their hunger. Another found that the CB1 receptors can ‘flick a switch’ causing a group of neurons found at the base of the brain to increase levels of the so-called ‘hunger hormone’ – ghrelin. This then can cause the person using cannabis to crave food.

THC also increases the release of dopamine, a chemical that helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers, and this enhances the pleasure of eating. In addition to making food more enjoyable, dopamine lowers inhibitions, resulting in people eating unhealthy foods that they may not have otherwise.

Published: July 2023


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