Marijuana Munchies: Why The Drug Makes You Hungrier

The marijuana munchies have been a known fact ever since mankind found out that you could smoke a certain plant. That’s no mystery.

But what has been a mystery, for a while anyway, is why that is. Thankfully researchers at Yale University recently applied their skills to unlocking the mystery in lab mice, and here’s what they found.

There are neurons in the brain that typically turn off hunger pangs, but when marijuana interacts with these neurons, it has the opposite effect.

Observing the effects on the mice, the team noticed that instead of having their hunger reduced, the creatures turned almost ravenous.

Tamas Horvath, a Yale professor and the study’s lead author, offered this explanation to the Chicago Tribune.

“It fools the brain’s central feeding system. We were surprised to find that the neurons we thought were responsible for shutting down eating were suddenly being activated and promoting hunger, even when you are full.”

It has been common knowledge for quite some time that activating cannabinoid receptor 1, or CB1R, on brain cells can contribute to an overactive appetite. They’ve also been able to find that tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana, can trigger hunger. But the more that researchers investigate, the more they find surprising results like this one.

Horvath added on Tuesday that more research would be needed “to determine whether the reaction he and colleagues observed in mice is happening in people,” the Tribune noted.

“Obviously, this is a very primitive mechanism that’s likely to be the same in humans,” he said. “Nevertheless, there needs to be confirmation of that.”

The marijuana munchies study is published in full in the journal Nature, and it was funded in part by the National Institutes of Health and the American Diabetes Association.

Previous marijuana studies have shown that the drug can have a mixed bag of effects on users. While a study conducted in 2014 showed that chronic users tended to have lower IQs, one of the most recent looks found that marijuana for depression was an effective treatment.

More people are starting to embrace marijuana legalization with citizens in Colorado and Washington voting to legalize it, and a growing number of supporters in traditionally conservative areas of the U.S. threatening to tip the balance.

As for marijuana and the munchies, do you think issues like this could lead to greater health problems for chronic users? Sound off in the comments section.

[Image via ShutterStock]