Many people have heard about the side effect from marijuana known as “the munchies”. It’s the appetite boost some people get from using forms of THC-containing cannabis. For patients experiencing eating disorders, cachexia, HIV, or other medical conditions that make eating difficult, using medical marijuana to stimulate the appetite can be life-saving.
Why does THC Cause an Appetite Boost?
While scientists aren’t sure what causes the munchies, they’ve observed that THC stimulates the endocannabinoid system, an area of the brain that regulates eating behavior and energy balance.
According to one study, THC appears to enhance our sensitivity to smell, which would make aromas from food more potent and cause someone to eat more. Because scent and taste are closely related, THC may be what allows us to better taste flavors as well.
Another study found that neurons which normally turn off when eating are stimulated when THC is used, stimulating increased food consumption. Scientists believe that neurons that typically control your level of satiety can be blocked when THC is introduced. Additionally,THC interacts with the receptors in the hypothalamus, leading to release of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger for sweet and fatty foods. THC also causes a dopamine release, which can enhance your enjoyment of food.
THC may also work to improve the gut biome. A study on animals from the University of Calgary studied obese mice. The mice were put on a high-calorie diet and given THC. Their gut bacteria levels normalized, and they stopped gaining weight.
Despite eating more while using THC (one study reported over 600 extra calories per day), the patients’ increased caloric intake didn’t seem to be reflected in increased BMI. These findings suggest that THC may work to improve insulin control, regulate body weight and perhaps explain why cannabis users have a lower incidence of diabetes.
What about CBD?
Unlike the more widely legal non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD), THC is the mechanism in cannabis that interacts with appetite. It’s thought that the average American diet is too high in omega-6 fatty acids such as vegetable oil and butter. In excess, omega-6 can cause inflammation in the body, overstimulating the CB1R receptor. Omega-6 fatty acids cause hunger and makes food taste better, decreases metabolic rates, and encourages fat storage. THC is able to “talk” to the CB1R receptor and help restore homeostasis, helping reduce hunger and weight gain.
CBD may boost appetite in a different way, though. Added to foods and beverages, or taken as a medication, CBD might help relieve nausea and calm the nervous system and digestive tract. If you feel less nauseated, you may eat more.
How Does the Appetite Boost From Cannabis Help Patients?
For patients that have trouble eating due to chemotherapy, THC can help increase appetite. Test-tube and animal studies have shown that cannabis might impact tumor cells, but scientific studies haven’t concluded that it will cure the disease. Cannabis may ease symptoms, but it should be used as a complementary part of a patient’s overall treatment plan, developed with an oncologist and cancer care team.
HIV and AIDS:
While cannabis does not appear to reverse AIDS-related cachexia (wasting syndrome) in studies, it could potentially be part of a combination treatment for wasting. Cannabis might be used to boost patients’ food consumption while they undergo physical therapy. An interesting side note to the study was that patients reported that they prefer smoking over swallowing THC.
Cachexia (Wasting Syndrome):
Cachexia and, more specifically, cancer cachexia, is different from anorexia. Anorexia describes an aversion to food. The term “cachexia” refers to a loss of body mass, including lean body mass and fat, in the setting of a disease state, in this case cancer. The causes of cachexia can be related to the disease, the treatment, and sometimes also emotional distress. In recent years, researchers have gradually found that cannabinoids have potential applications as a supportive cancer therapy as well as in palliative care.
Why Doesn’t Cannabis Give Me the Munchies?
If you’re trying to stimulate your appetite with cannabis, there are a few reasons why it might not be working:
- Your cannabis doesn’t have (enough) THC in it. While cannabidiol (CBD) and other isolated cannabinoids produce a variety of benefits, THC is what provides the appetite boost.
- Some individuals don’t ever achieve a “high” when eating edibles. THC undergoes a first-pass metabolism through the liver after dosing orally with it. What this means for many patients is that the THC amount consumed is greatly reduced before it reaches the systemic circulation where the beneficial effects take place.
- The cannabis you’re medicating with might have a high concentration of THCV, which is thought to suppress the appetite. Strains that contain THCV may dull the appetite. Thile this may be good for consumers focused on weight loss, THCV should be avoided by patients treating appetite loss or anorexia.
Your diet may play a part in how you medicate with cannabis as well, so consider making an appointment with a functional medicine physician. By learning what strains, forms of administration, cannabinoids and terpenes produce particular effects based on your diet, you can more accurately determine which types of cannabis might be right for treating your condition.
If you’re looking to try cannabis for a condition that affects your weight, Duber Medical can help. Schedule an appointment today.
Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca
Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.