Official research by a team at Yale have confirmed what pot smokers have known for years: smoking pot gives you the munchies. According to Time, potheads and scientists alike have long known that smoking pot can make a person crave food, a phenomena known colloquially as the munchies. What has never been clear is just why this happens, so a team of Yale researchers set off to figure it out.
CBS News reports that a study by Yale researchers Marco Koch, Tamas Horvath, and several others in the journal Nature found those uncontrollable munchies are driven by neurons in the brain responsible for suppressing appetite. According to the L.A. Times, previous scientific studies (and anecdotal evidence) show that when people and animals are exposed to the active ingredients in marijuana, they are driven to eat long after they should feel full.
Tamas Horvath, a professor of neurobiology at Yale, said that “everyone knows that if you smoke pot after Thanksgiving dinner you will still go back and eat more, sometimes much more, we were interested to find out why.”
Popular Science says that to try to explain the munchies phenomena, the researchers injected mice with the a chemical that sticks to certain cannabinoid receptors in their brains. Cannabinoids are the active chemicals found in pot.
The researchers found that their mice got the munchies and ate more when they had their cannabinoid receptors stimulated. Many other biologists have found the same, but the Yale team also found something unexpected. They found that another set of neurons, called POMC neurons, in the mice’s brains got to work. These neurons usually suppress the appetite, but when exposed to the same cannabinoids as would be ingested from pot smoking, they reversed action, increasing appetite rather than suppressing it. In other words, they induced the munchies.
The physiology of appetite responses is undoubtably complex, and it seems the POMC system may be more complicated than researchers originally thought. What seems clear though is that, in simple terms, smoking pot can change a brain circuit from being one that tells the body it’s full to one that tells the body to keep eating, or pot smoking brings on the munchies.
It is perhaps a little disappointing to find out the study was conducted using mice, as it destroys the rather delicious image of a team of scientific researchers sitting around smoking pot and getting stoned in the name of science. Of course, the research has a much more serious side.
Hogarth explained that their findings could one day lead to new drugs that could help increase appetite in certain patients such as those with cancer or AIDS, many of whom already smoke pot to combat nausea or a constant sense of fullness.
“There are diseases where you have a complete lack of appetite. People actually die because of inability to eat.”
It would seem that research into the pot smoking munchies will one day help to save lives.