Whether blazing makes you crave massive amounts of Taco Bell, or inspires you to see how many jars of Nutella you can crush, it doesn’t take a scientist to realize that munchies are real.

But scientists have finally figured out why that particular hunger happens.

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Photo: Flickr/nathanmac87

According to an article just published in Nature, the answer is stated clearly in scientific terms in the title: Hypothalamic POMC Neurons Promote Cannabinoid-Induced Feeding. Ok, but what in god’s name are “Hypothalamic POMC Neurons”?

POMC neurons usually make you feel full when they’re activated, because they release an appetite-suppressing enzyme called a-MSH. But that’s the typical reaction that happens when cannabis isn’t involved.

All that changes when you introduce bud, though. When you’re getting high, a receptor called CB1 is triggered. When these CB1 receptors activate the POMC neurons, they also release an enzyme that makes you feel reeeal good called b-endorphin. While b-endorphin is usually associated with dulling pain, it can also make you really, really hungry.

To summarize, CB1 makes you feel hungry by activating a neuron that’s usually associated with making you feel full. Whoa, dude.

This Research Could Affect Weight Loss Drugs

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Wired spoke to Indiana University biologist Kenneth Mackie about the study, although he was not one of the researchers who participated. Mackie said scientists have been trying for years to figure out what makes us hungry to create anti-munchie pharmaceuticals. But after a huge pharma flop on an anti-munchie drug in Europe in 2006, researchers haven’t been as keen on developing drugs that affect CB1 receptors.

Mackie added, 

“But if POMC shows there’s another way to change neuron activity, it may give them another way to manipulate receptors for weight loss.”

Looks like drug kingpin Bethenny Frankel might have gotten her hands on a copy of the study; she recently announced plans to launch a line of “Skinnygirl Marijuana” that doesn’t give tokers the munchies.

How The Study Worked

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Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Scientists took two groups of equal numbers of mice and studied them. One group of mice was genetically modified to have their POMC neurons completely blocked. The other group of mice had fully functional POMC neurons. The ones with blocked POMC neurons ignored their food after their CB1 receptors were activated. Meanwhile, the mice with functional POMC neurons went crazy with their mouse food after the same thing happened to them.

The researchers dug further and found that POMC neurons activated by CB1 receptors also had higher levels of free radicals, which mitochondria create when they’re working hard within cells. Think of them as small colonies of workers making your cells function like they should. Researchers believe this means those overtime-working mitochondria create a protein that specifically triggers the POMC neurons into releasing that b-endorphin, thus resulting in extreme cases of munchies.

It should be noted that this isn’t scientists’ first foray into figuring out why weed gives you the munchies.

In a study published in February 2014 in the journal Nature Neuroscienceresearchers link the increased hunger experienced by weed smokers to the drug’s ability to produce a higher sensitivity to scents and flavors. 

[via Nature, Wired]