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The Science Behind Why Cannabis Makes You Hungry

If you've ever found yourself diving headfirst into a bag of snacks after indulging in a bit of cannabis, you're not alone. The munchies are absolutely real. With cannabis now legal across 24 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, many Americans celebrated this past weekend's 4/20 with a puff and, perhaps, a craving for something deliciously indulgent.

Cannabis Leaf

"The munchies" have been a longstanding phenomenon in the cannabis community, yet until recently, the science behind it remained elusive. But now, thanks to dedicated researchers, we're gaining a clearer understanding of why cannabis has such a profound impact on our appetite.

Decades of research into cannabis's effects on human hunger have yielded more questions than answers. A 1975 study in Behavioral Biology highlighted the mystery, stating, "No unequivocal explanations for the phenomenon in humans or animals are readily acceptable." However, a breakthrough came in 2015 from researchers at Yale University.

Published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, the study led by neurobiologist Tamas Horvath shed light on how cannabis hijacks our brain's hunger signals. Horvath likened the effect to "pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead." Essentially, cannabis tricks the brain into feeling hungry even when it's full, activating hunger-promoting hormones via the CB1 receptor.

What's particularly intriguing is the role of POMC neurons, previously thought to signal fullness. The study revealed that these neurons can also promote appetite, turning off the stop sign and turning on the green light for munchies. As Horvath explained to NPR, "Even if you just had dinner and you smoke the pot, all of a sudden these neurons that told you to stop eating become the drivers of hunger."

While the science behind cannabis-induced hunger is fascinating, it also holds promise for real-world applications. Understanding how cannabis influences appetite could aid in supporting individuals undergoing chemotherapy, helping them regain lost appetite and improve their quality of life. Moreover, insights from these studies may benefit those with various medical conditions.

While the mechanics behind cannabis and hunger are still not fully understood, ongoing research continues to unveil new insights. So, if you're planning to partake, it's always wise to have some snacks on hand—just in case the munchies strike. After all, science is still uncovering the delicious mysteries of cannabis-induced cravings.


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