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New Study Explains Why Marijuana Gives You The Munchies

We’ve all heard about the phenomenon of “the munchies” – that insatiable hunger and craving for food after consuming marijuana. It’s a common side effect that many people experience, but have you ever wondered why it happens? A recent study published in the journal Scientific Reports by researchers at Washington State University may have uncovered the answer.

The researchers at Washington State University set out to study the effects of marijuana on appetite and hunger. They used a technique called calcium imaging, which is similar to a brain MRI, to observe how mice’s brain cells responded when exposed to cannabis. Calcium imaging has been used to study the brain’s reactions to food by other researchers, but this is the first known study to use it to understand those features following cannabis exposure.

Findings of the Study

The study found that when exposed to marijuana, mice’s brains showed increased activity in a specific region called the hypothalamus,  a structure deep in your brain, that acts as your body’s smart control coordinating center. Its main function is to keep your body in a stable state called homeostasis. It does its job by directly influencing your autonomic nervous system or by managing hormones. This region plays a crucial role in regulating hunger and metabolism.

“When the mice are given cannabis, neurons come on that typically are not active,” said Jon Davis, an assistant professor of neuroscience at WSU and corresponding author on the paper. “There is something important happening in the hypothalamus after vapor cannabis.”

As part of this research, the researchers also determined that the cannabinoid-1 receptor controlled the activity of a well-known set of “feeding” cells in the hypothalamus called Agouti Related Protein neurons.

With this information, they used a “chemogenetic” technique, which acts like a molecular light switch, to home in on these neurons when animals were exposed to cannabis. When these neurons were turned off, cannabis no longer promoted appetite.

“We now know one of the ways that the brain responds to recreational-type cannabis to promote appetite,” said Davis

“The appetite promoting effects of cannabis sativa have been recognized for centuries, however, surprisingly, the biological mechanisms that underlie this process have remained largely unknown. In this regard, our data demonstrate that inhalation of cannabis vapor augments the appetitive phases of feeding behavior as evidenced by an increase in the number of meals consumed, a decrease in meal size and enhanced effort-based responding for palatable food. Notably, these behavioral observations occurred in the absence of reduced locomotor activity, and in the presence of increased energy expenditure”, the study outlines.

Implications for Medical Treatments

One of the most significant implications of this study is its potential to aid in developing treatments for appetite disorders. Anorexia nervosa, a severe eating disorder, could potentially be treated by targeting the cannabinoid receptors in the hypothalamus. This study also has implications for treating obesity, as it may provide a new approach to regulating appetite and promoting healthy eating habits.

Furthermore, cancer patients who struggle with loss of appetite due to treatments like chemotherapy may benefit from this research. By understanding how marijuana activates hunger-promoting neurons in the brain, researchers could potentially develop treatments to help cancer patients maintain a healthy appetite during their treatment.

For years, it has been a popular belief that marijuana gives you the “munchies.” However, this study conducted by Washington State University sheds light on the scientific explanation behind this phenomenon. By using advanced techniques to observe brain activity in mice, researchers were able to uncover a mechanism in the brain that promotes appetite when exposed to marijuana.

While this study was conducted on mice, its findings have significant potential implications for medical treatments. From developing treatments for appetite disorders such as anorexia and obesity to helping cancer patients dealing with side effects of chemotherapy, the data gathered from this research could potentially benefit a wide range of individuals.

Ultimately, understanding how marijuana activates hunger-promoting neurons in the brain allows for a deeper understanding of the effects it has on our bodies. This knowledge can lead to the development of more targeted and effective treatments for various medical conditions, improving the quality of life for many individuals. So, next time you experience the munchies after consuming marijuana, you’ll know that there is science behind your cravings.


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