Why Smoking Cannabis Makes You So Hungry

By Adam Clark Estes on at

If you've ever smoked weed, chances are you've also taken that regrettable trip to Tesco Extra and stocked up on cheap biscuits, Rustlers burgers and any other colourfully packaged snacks. Next day you wake up surrounded in wrappers, and wonder: WHY?

Long story short, your body thought you were starving. Research just published in Nature Neuroscience reveals new information about what cannabis does to the brain and, specifically, your appetite. The main active ingredient in cannabis, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), targets your brain's olfactory bulbs—among other things—and actually make you smell and taste more than usual. These heightened senses stimulate your appetite.

At least, this is how it works in mice. For the experiment, the research team fed one group mice THC and then exposed them to banana and almond oils. Once high, the mice spent more time smelling the oils than the control group which did not receive THC. The mice given THC also ate more. They also tried the experiment on mice which had been genetically engineered to lack the cannabinoid receptor in question, and the THC had no effect on those mice.

Scientists believe that the same process is at play in humans who smoke weed. The specific receptors at play are part of the brain's endocannabinoid system that controls emotions, pain sensitivity, memory, and appetite, although cannabis affects other parts of the brain as well. This new research is similar to a 2005 study that looked at similar receptors in the hypothalmus that also stimulated hunger, and scientists believe that cannabis' effect on dopamine levels might also play a role.

Speaking of dopamine, it's important to remember that cannabis has a whole host of effects on the body, many of which scientists are still trying to figure out. The appetite enhancing properties of cannabis hold particular promise when it comes to clinical uses; for instance, it has been proven effective at helping cancer patients get their appetite back during chemotherapy treatment. Scientists are hopeful that this new discovery will lead to more clinical research. If nothing else, it will leave you a little less curious about all those Pringles cans under your sofa. [Motherboard via Nature]