Why Cannabis Causes the “Munchies” (and What to Do About it!)
Do you get the “Munchies” from using cannabis?
While considered a negative side effect for some patients, the appetite boost from medical marijuana can be a lifesaver for others. Certain cancers, cachexia (wasting syndrome), and eating disorders are among a few of the conditions for which a doctor may recommend medical marijuana to increase appetite.
It’s well-known among medical marijuana physicians and the scientific community that the appetite-inducing phenomenon occurs when a patient vaporizes or consumes tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Scientists understand how THC works to affect sensory perception. But until recently, the underlying mechanisms of why THC increases your appetite remained poorly understood.
Why You Get the Munchies from Cannabis
Hunger arouses sensory perception, eventually leading to an increase in food intake. THC works on the part of the brain’s olfactory bulb which controls appetite. Cannabinoid receptors light up in the brain when you smoke, vaporize, or ingest cannabis. THC then goes to work all over the body, affecting how you smell and taste food.
A 2018 study from Washington State University dosed lab rats with cannabis vapor to find out how THC triggers hunger hormones. The researchers found that “cannabis exposure caused more frequent, small meals. But there’s a delay before it takes effect.”
Cancer, Cachexia, and Boosting the Appetite With Medical Marijuana
There is evidence that the appetite boost from THC can be an effective treatment for patients who haven’t responded well to pharmaceuticals. Ohio and other states have recently granted approval for a new qualifying condition of cachexia. Cachexia was approved by the Ohio Medical Marijuana Program and added in Spring 2020, making it the 23rd state in the U.S. to recognize cachexia as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana.
Cancer can induce adverse metabolic changes in patients, causing them to lose their appetites and subsequently, lose body fat and/or tissue. This results in the excruciating condition known as cachexia. Currently, no definitive medical treatments exist for cachexia. Pharmaceutical options available include megestrol acetate, glucocorticoids, and anabolic steroids. However, these can have varying effectiveness on patients and some increase mortality.
Cancer patients are the most well-known group that falls victim to wasting syndrome. But cachexia can be present with lots of other diseases, too. Cachexia often accompanies conditions such as AIDS, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), rheumatoid arthritis, and end-stage renal disease.
Exceptions to the Rule
Interestingly, some patients get the “Munchies” from cannabis but others experience the opposite effect! A little-known cannabinoid called THCV that only exists in select strains has actually been found to trigger your brain to eat less and make more healthful choices.
A 2018 study in the journal Molecular Biology provided more information about THCV. In the study, the researchers observed that the more patients ate greasy, fatty foods, the less they enjoyed them. What this means is that THCV triggers the amygdala to associate certain types of foods with an unpleasant sensation and train the brain to crave more nutritious foods.
You’ll find THCV more plentifully in sativa strains. A few strains known to contain higher levels of THCV include Doug’s Varin, Girl Scout Cookies, and Durban Poison.
What About CBD?
Cannabidiol (CBD) is a cannabinoid of medical marijuana known for lots of healthful benefits but it doesn’t work as an appetite booster. THC is the compound of cannabis that works to boost dopamine so that you get more pleasure from eating, making someone more inclined to eat. CBD doesn’t do that alone. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use it!
Some patients may choose CBD instead of THC products to avoid failing workplace drug tests. Scientists from Indiana University warn that using CBD for appetite won’t be (as) effective as using a product with THC. They noted in a 2018 paper: “the best outcome and minimal side effects are achieved when as many cannabis compounds as possible reach your system at the same time.”
There’s often a significant benefit to taking THC and CBD together. If you consume a product with as much CBD as THC, you will likely experience a less intense high than if you took a higher THC to CBD ratio. This is known as The Entourage Effect. Utilizing the whole plant in this way can cause patients to feel a more desirable effect with less potential for THC-induced anxiety.
Getting Your Medical Marijuana Card
The appetite boost from medical marijuana can help treat multiple conditions. If your appetite has been difficult to regulate, you may qualify for a medical marijuana card. Click here to set up your online appointment with Duber Medical 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.