Decoding the “Munchies”: How Cannabis Influences Appetite

a plate of muffin, cookies, chocolate and a marijuana leaf

The munchies” are a widely known phenomenon, frequently portrayed in the media, discussed among cannabis enthusiasts, and often misunderstood. It is a colloquial way of describing increased hunger after cannabis consumption. Scientists call this sensation hedonic feeding (the consumption of food for sensory enjoyment). Historians have found records of increased appetite from cannabis dating back to 300 BCE. Anecdotal accounts of “the munchies” are abundant—but here we will touch upon its current scientific understanding.

What Happens in the Body 

Most cannabis users probably know what “the munchies” are on an individual or cultural level, but it is interesting to look at what happens physiologically when cannabis is consumed.

The answer to that question was proposed a few years ago by Yale professor, Tamas Horvath. The researcher explains, “It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead…We were surprised to find that the neurons we thought were responsible for shutting down eating, were suddenly being activated and promoting hunger, even when you are full. It fools the brain’s central feeding system.”

On a biological level, cannabis induces hunger primarily through its active component, THC, which interacts with cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1) located in the brain, stomach and intestines. This interaction interferes with the regulation of “hunger hormones” like Ghrelin and Peptide YY, which underscore THC’s role in modulating appetite.

Current Research

In light of recent legal developments in both Canada and the United States, there has been a surge in research exploring the effects of cannabis consumption by adolescents and adults alike.

According to Levichev et al.’s 2023 study, there is a reason people are not reaching for green smoothies or chia bowls when socializing with friends. The study shows that cannabinoids have the potential to intensify existing inclinations towards foods that are higher in calories, sugar, and fat—a process referred to as hedonic enhancement of feeding. In other words, the less healthy, the more enticing a particular food may be when consuming cannabis.

An interesting worm-based study conducted by the University of Oregon revealed that even worms have a strong preference for less healthy food options when soaked in the endocannabinoid anandamide (a molecule made by the body that activates the body’s cannabinoid receptors). When placed in a maze, the worms flocked to the unhealthy feed—analogous to the calorically dense food cannabis users are known to reach for—and stayed there longer than they did when sober.

A study led by Giovanni Marsico found that cannabinoids sharpen the sense of smell, making food more appealing. The researchers found that certain brain receptors in mice are activated both when they are fasting, and when they are under the influence of marijuana. Essentially, not eating activates the same receptors in the brain as marijuana, leading to increased hunger. They concluded that this effect is primarily due to the fact that these receptors are situated in the brain’s area responsible for smell—a crucial driver of appetite.

Future Research

Neuroscientist Shawn Lockery, the mind behind the worm study, suggests that this is just the beginning. He believes that the fact that we know so much about worm genetics suggests that we can use them to understand more and more about the effects of cannabis on human physiology and behavior.

Future research could also highlight potential benefits for chemotherapy patients, those with eating disorders, and individuals suffering from conditions like HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, and specific neurological disorders, where loss of appetite and weight loss are common issues.

Final Thoughts

“The munchies” are a subject of scientific exploration and intrigue. While it has long been solely a colloquial term, recent research sheds light on the physiological mechanisms behind this curious phenomenon. New studies are laying the groundwork for further research. As scientists delve further into the realm of cannabis-related research and continue to unravel the mysteries of marijuana’s effect on appetite, the journey from anecdote to understanding will underscore the fascinating interplay between culture and science.

© Kanab Inc. – Kanab Inc. is a Toronto based cannabis retail company that honors the historical significance and uses of the cannabis plant across cultures and civilizations. Kanab has now opened its first cannabis dispensary at the intersection of Don Mills Road and York Mills Road in North York region of Toronto, Ontario (South of 401, West of 404 / Don Valley Parkway, and East of Leslie). For more info, please visit:

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