For years, cannabis connoisseurs have wondered why marijuana has made them excessively hungry, a term known in the cannabis community, as the "munchies". Munchies usually occur after a marijuana session, and are oftentimes followed by an increased appetite in the form of junk food binges or an expensive food receipt. Even though the connection between cannabinoids and the seemingly, uncontrollable impetus to eat, has been well documented, the scientific link between marijuana and the brain chemistry causing this phenomenon, has not...until now.
According to a recently published study in the journal of Nature, scientists at the Yale School of Medicine have discovered a correlation between nerve cells in the brain named pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons, and increases in hunger. Lead author of the study Tomas Horvath, told the IBTimes UK
that "there is a phase-about 90 minutes into it- that all of a sudden you have this interest in food. Whatever food is in front of you-mainly sweets though- and it's important to ask if they go hand in hand or at separate responses."
During Horvath's study, conducted on mice, researchers were shocked to find the opposite of what their original hypothesis had indicated about the brain's functionality, when exposed to cannabis. "We didn't mean to find what we found," said Horvath to the Times. "It was a simple controlled study where we wanted to look at these neurons where we suspected they should be off, to see if they were off, and under these conditions if cannabinoids induce feeding. We found they sped up, which was a shocking surprise for us."
Remarkably, the research team found that the same function in the brain responsible for turning off hunger, became the the main catalyst for the munchies: "It's like pressing a car's brakes and accelerating instead," said Horvath. "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."
According to other results from the study, the mice ate about three to four times more than they were supposed to eat after being given cannabis. The main cause of this being neurons that usually suppress hunger, switching rolls, into neurons promoting hunger, after cannabis application. Horvath and his team of researchers are interested in doing future research on the topic, not only to see if other pathways in the brain are affected by cannabis use, but also, to treat appetite loss caused by diseases and other ailments. "This is so important for these people to be able to eat and replenish their energy," Horvath said to the Times. "It's something that should be pursued."