The Munchies: Why Cannabis Makes You Hungry

Apr 08, 2021

You know how it feels: the overpowering surge of hunger after a toke, the strong yearning to open a bag of chips or the sudden eagerness to make a beeline to the fridge for that tub of chocolate ice cream.

The word “munchies” is so universally understood because it’s one of the most common effects of consuming cannabis. But what exactly is the scientific and biological reason behind this phenomenon? You’re about to find out!

The Science Behind the Munchies

No one needs to be a scientist to notice how cannabis can make a person crave food, but actual scientists were curious to find out why this happens. Believe it or not, it wasn’t until 2015 when a bunch of neurobiologists from Yale University accidentally discovered the reason why smoking herb makes us hungry.

The answer is simple: THC increases our sensitivity to flavours and scents by tapping in to naturally occurring neural networks to convince the brain that you need to eat, even when you’re full. Hence, the perfect definition of the munchies!

“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead,” explained Thomas Horvath, one of the scientists that performed the study. “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 fools the brain’s central feeding system.”

a woman sitting next to a fridge, eating a tub of ice cream

To explain it further, our brains produce their own cannabinoids, which are lipids that control our mood, energy, pain reception, and you guessed it: appetite. The tetrahydrocannabinol in cannabis, or univocally known as THC, latches onto the cannabinoid receptors like a set of claws in our brains, mimicking the same chemicals. 

The munchies study used mice as test subjects, and Horvath and his team discovered that THC turns on a switch in the mouse’s hypothalamus. When applied to humans, an overpowering sense of hunger takes place. Instead of releasing the chemical that signals that you’ve had enough food, the neurons start telling the hypothalamus that you definitely need to eat more, or more specifically, to open that bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

“Even if you just had dinner and you smoke the pot, all of a sudden these neurons that told you to stop eating becomes the drivers of hunger,” revealed Horvath, in a separate report by NPR. Adding to that, Horvath’s lab discovered that in earlier studies, cannabis also fondles cannabinoid receptors in the olfactory bulb. The olfactory bulb makes food smell and taste more intensely, and affects how much food we consume. In other words, the olfactory bulb can intensify the feeling of munchies even more. 

More than Junk Food: Let’s Get Scientific with Munchies

There’s a reason why medical marijuana is prescribed to patients experiencing appetite loss in relation to their conditions. A post by Refinery29 reveals how the munchies effect helped individuals suffering from autoimmune diseases and loss of appetite. 

According to the post, a male patient was suffering from ulcerative colitis, which is a chronic bowel condition that causes inflammation in the digestive tract. After learning about the evidence suggesting that cannabis consumption can calm the inflammation and bring back his appetite, he picked up the bong for an intentional dose of munchies. And it worked. Thanks to his increased appetite after smoking, the patient was able to power through the worst of his symptoms during a point when he weighed less than 110 pounds for a 5 foot 10 individual. In this case, the munchies were a cure-all. 

This patient is not the only one who experienced the benefits of having the munchies. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), THC is the only cannabinoid recognized to increase appetite for HIV patients. Cannabis-loving nurse, the legendary Brownie Mary, knew this from the get-go, as she was famously known to distribute spiked brownies to her patients in the HIV ward. She did this as a way to increase their appetites and cure nausea. This is why she is regarded as a beacon in legalizing cannabis for medical consumption.

There have also been several studies proving that cannabis enhances appetite for cancer patients. Loss of appetite is a common symptom, which can lead to extreme weight loss, anorexia, and decreased survival rates. Canadian researchers ran a pilot study from 2006 to 2008, and the results showed that patients experienced an increase in appetite and sense of taste after being given active capsules containing 2.5mg of THC. 

In these instances, the term “munchies” for recreational cannabis users is synonymous with “a cure” for those consuming medically.

Hands holding cannabis bud

The Marketing Drive of the Munchies

The munchies are not just a common effect upon smoking cannabis, it’s actually a worldwide junk food movement. Food companies from all over the world create food products specifically targeting cannabis consumers so they can fill the void the munchies create. In fact, some of these items are so outrageous that a sober individual would think they’re ridiculous. Snacks like Ben & Jerry’s “Half-Baked” ice cream, or Slater’s “Donut Burger” are perfect examples of this trend. 

There’s also the two-in-one choice for those who want to take their munchies to the next level with edibles! If you crave something sweet when you’re stoned, opt to indulge in chocolates or soft chews. If you’re feeling more adventurous, try your hand at cooking with cannabis.

Ready to Jumpstart That Feeling of Having the Munchies?

Now that you’ve found out why you’re getting the munchies, it’s time to use that knowledge and activate the olfactory bulb! Browse through our fine range of extracts, dried flowers, Sativa, Indica, and hybrid pre-rolls, or pick something from our line of baked goods. Our budtenders are happy to suggest which one works best for you!

If you have any questions about our offerings, feel free to message us on Instagram!