It doesn’t take a scientist to figure out that when people smoke marijuana, they start craving warm chocolate brownies, salty potato chips, and juicy cheeseburgers. Most of us refer to this as “the munchies”.
But it does take a scientist to figure out why this phenomenon occurs. For years, scientists have struggled to understand how marijuana’s active ingredient—tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC—stimulates appetite.
In a study published on Sunday in the journal Nature Neuroscience, researchers link the increased hunger experienced by weed smokers to the drug’s ability to produce a higher sensitivity to scents and flavors.
Smithsonian Magazine explains how researchers came to their conclusions:
“In mice, THC fits into receptors in the brain’s olfactory bulb, significantly increasing the animals’ ability to smell food and leading them to eat more of it. A big part of the reason why you might eat more food after using marijuana, the research indicates, is simply that you can smell and taste it more acutely.”
But that’s not even the most interesting part of the study.
THC manipulates brain pathways, making our brains mimic the sensations we feel when we’re deprived of food. Smithsonian Mag explains,
“As a final test, the researchers forced some mice to fast for 24 hours, and found that this drove up levels of natural cannabinoids in the olfactory lobe.” [Cannabinoids are compounds present in Cannabis, which our brains also produce naturally.] “Not surprisingly, these starved mice showed greater scent sensitivity and ate much more too.”
In other words, THC appears to give us the munchies by convincing our brains that we’re starving. Now go smoke a fat one, grab a cheeseburger, and appreciate your increased sense of hunger, smell, and taste.
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