The munchies. If you've consumed weed, you've most likely had this type of experience: You smoke a joint, and suddenly you've finished all the chips in the house, eaten a block of cheese, and ordered a large pepperoni pizza. You wake up the next morning knowing full well you've destroyed your diet with a zombie frenzy of bad calories.
Leave the guilt behind. There's a scientific explanation for the munchies and even research into ways to counter their effects. And if you can see past the junk food rampage, you'll may come to know that the munchies can be a good thing.
The term "munchies" comes from Charles T. Tart's 1971 study, "On Being Stoned," in which 150 cannabis users were put under observations, and their cravings for sweet food were duly noted by researchers.
Since then, the word "munchies" has worked its way into the popular vocabulary, used wryly just before the cupboard or refrigerator door opens.
The Science Behind Weed Munchies
When it comes to getting the munchies, it seems the cannabis culprit is one of its principal psychoactive ingredients, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
"THC interacts with receptors in our brain that regulate emotions, pain, and our sense of smell and taste," explains Janice Newell Bissex, a registered dietitian in a CNN interview. "It can also promote the release of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger."
The brain itself is divided into areas that control mood, influence appetites, and so on. So as THC gets us high, it also acts upon the part of the brain that tells us to eat more.
Besides ghrelin, our [endocannabinoid system (ECS)](https://hellomd.com/articles/the-science-of-getting-the-munchies-and-why-it-helps-the-critically-ill] can also influence appetite. This system includes cannabinoid receptors in the central and peripheral nervous system and the immune system. The ECS is also associated with inner balance or homeostasis. These receptors, especially the CB1 receptors, are found in great concentrations in parts of the brain that affect memory, movement, emotions, higher cognition, and appetite.
As THC binds with CB1 receptors, appetite increases, and the act of eating is made more pleasurable. In conjunction with this, the feeling of becoming full (which in other cases might make us stop eating) is reduced.
THC can also improve smell, which is linked to appetite, and improve your taste.
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Weed, Munchies and Weight Gain
Of course, weed itself won't make us fat. But if we give into the munchies and couch-lock, so we aren't active, then we might start to pack on the pounds. It's been shown that people who are already overweight may be more motivated to eat during cannabis use, especially since they may be prone to having a higher dopamine response triggered by seeing, smelling, and tasting desirable foods.
Some edibles have sugar in them, so this may also contribute to weight gain. But they also may be less culpable in creating the munchies response, since they release THC into the system much slower than the hit you get from smoking marijuana.
One way to curb the munchies is to limit your THC intake. This is one of the benefits of going to a legal, state-authorized dispensary where products are required to be lab-tested and labeled with the percentages of CBD and THC in them.
To flip the script, there's also evidence that cannabis can help boost your metabolism and even burn calories. On average, weed users tend to weigh less than people who forgo it.
And there is even a certain cannabinoid within cannabis, THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin, that may be able to suppress the munchies. THCV is found in great abundance in flower strains such as Durban Poison and other native African strains.
But if you're concerned about eating the wrong things after consuming your weed, then it's a good idea to prepare and stock your home with healthy alternatives. For example, baked sweet potato fries are a great substitute for deep-fried French fries or a whole bag of potato chips. Or to satisfy a craving for salty-sweet foods, have apple slices with almond butter available instead of the jar of Nutella!
How the Munchies Can Help
On a more serious note, weed's ability to stimulate the appetite comes in handy to counter the effects of various medical conditions that weaken the desire to eat, such as cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, people suffering with HIV, or those affected by anorexia nervosa.
Sick people often cannot eat enough food to stay healthy, and the critically ill can suffer from malnourishment. In many cases, these people would welcome a chance to get the munchies and to see their waistlines and health prospects grow.
Need Your Medical Marijuana Card?
If you're someone who's looking to make cannabis part of a daily health regime, you may want to look into becoming a certified medical marijuana patient. HelloMD can help you with online virtual medical consultation and get your medical card fast, easy and private. You only pay if you're approved!