If you’ve ever smoked marijuana, then you’ve probably had some experience watching all three Lord of the Rings movies while eating the most delicious steak you’ve ever had owing to the fact that you decided to cover it in peanut butter and jelly. It is at this point that you might find yourself wondering why marijuana gives you the munchies.
The answer appears to be a combination of a few different things, primarily an increase in your ability to smell, which in turn makes your food taste better; an upsurge in the release of a neurotransmitter, Dopamine; and through the complex mechanism of how the human body deals with hunger, the production of an appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin. So how does marijuana accomplish all this?
Marijuana, and its active ingredients, known as cannabinoids, affect the brain in a number of ways. For instance, the cannabinoid that gives us that memory-killing-high is Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). There are at least 85 separate cannabinoids in marijuana, all exhibiting varied effects within the body. To better understand the role of these in feeling famished, let’s look at what normally stimulates our appetite.
The body uses several complex mechanisms to regulate hunger and subsequent feeding. Those mechanisms aren’t yet fully understood. However, what we do know is that hunger has been shown to be a two part mechanism that flip-flops when the body senses a decrease or excess in energy stores.
When it senses a deficit, it triggers the release of ghrelin. This hormone is released by the GI tract and stimulates your hypothalamus in the brain to increase hunger. Interestingly, it also affects an area of the brain known as the Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA), which helps in the release of the feel-good neurotransmitter dopamine.
Conversely, when there’s an excess in energy stores, fat cells release the hormone leptin. This stimulates the hypothalamus to inhibit hunger. Leptin has also been shown to affect the VTA, thus, also affecting dopamine release. Additionally, leptin counteracts the effects of another neurotransmitter, anandamide. Anandamide is another potent hunger stimulator that binds to the same receptor sites…