What are munchies?

By: Contributor Culture

If you’re a cannabis user, you may have come face to face with the ‘munchies’, that irresistible craving for salty, sweet, or fatty, carbohydrate-rich foods  that you can experience after using marijuana. But what exactly causes these cravings? Why do they happen? Well, you can blame the active ingredient of cannabis (i.e. tetrahydrocannabinol or THC) for all of this, as well as your brain, of course!

If you’ve just been smoking some marijuana, it probably won’t be long before you start wolfing down all the junk food that’s in sight. Well, it’s safe to say that you’re not alone in this… If there’s a classic image that’s associated with cannabis, it’s got to be a stoner with an uncontrolled desire to eat, because one of the most talked about effects of marijuana is increased appetite, also known as ‘the munchies’.

This term derives from the verb to munch, which means “to chew noisily” or “to eat enthusiastically”. It is believed that this expression became popular in the 1970s with the growing influence of marijuana on the counterculture of the time. And because cannabis can trigger fierce cravings for snacks, it can actually improve the enjoyment of food. But why is this? Let’s have a look at the explanation offered by modern science.

Why do I feel hungry after using cannabis?

The two most common components of cannabis are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the most psychoactive compound and, ultimately, the one that leads to the munchies. And researchers believe that there are several possible reasons for this.

One of them is because THC can raise the levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter linked to the feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. It is released during pleasurable activities, such as having sex, enjoying a recreational activity, or eating delicious foods. So thanks to the influence of dopamine, we experience a particularly potent sense of internal reward when we eat something salty, sweet, or very satisfying.

But we need to look deeper into the brain reward system to understand this. THC affects the human body physiologically by specifically stimulating the endocannabinoid system. And although THC interacts with receptors throughout the body, a 2014 study published in the Nature Neuroscience journal claims that the effect of the munchies is caused specifically when THC binds to the receptors of the olfactory bulb, which is located in the front of the brain, at the base of the frontal lobe (which is the part of the brain that regulates how we smell, taste, and feel food).

Therefore, when THC binds to those receptors, food smells better and has a more delicious flavour, which is part of what is known as the ‘munchies’ phenomenon. Basically, THC works inside your brain to make your body feel hungry, even when it’s not.

More specifically, THC increases appetite by partially binding to the Type 1 cannabinoid receptors (CB1) and activating them. But CB1 receptors act in slightly different ways depending on the body tissue that they occupy, so they can increase appetite in several ways. CB1 receptors can be found in the following areas:

  • Basal ganglia, where they can improve the pleasure of eating.
  • The limbic forebrain, where they can improve the palatability of food (i.e. the quality of being pleasant to the palate).
  • The hypothalamus and the rhombencephalon, two sections of the brain that help regulate food intake.
  • The stomach and the small intestine, which regulate ghrelin.

You also feel hungry because it’s been shown that marijuana can have an impact on ghrelin, a hormone secreted by the stomach which accelerates digestion. Ghrelin tells the brain that your body is hungry and stimulates its appetite. And THC is able to release ghrelin through several known mechanisms.

Therefore, when we use cannabis, this combination of biochemical processes that occurs both in our brain and our stomach can make a simple pickle seem like a Kobe beef sirloin steak.

How much can I eat after using cannabis?

How hungry you feel also depends on how much cannabis you’ve used. When you smoke a joint, the THC levels in the blood are much higher than when you eat an edible, so you’ll get stronger munchies. As edibles are ingested, any food that is already in your system will slow down the absorption of THC until it finally reaches the brain. That’s the reason why the effects of cannabis may take between 5 and 10 minutes to kick in through inhalation, but may take up to two hours after ingestion.

To top it all off, the method of consumption of THC (inhalation, oral, sublingual, or rectal) can also affect caloric intake and could influence the choice of foods (in other words, a preference for something sweet, salty, acidic, or bitter). Several studies showed that suppositories led to a higher daily caloric intake when compared to oral capsules. Differences in appetite stimulation are mainly owed to differences in the potency of the strain and the rate of absorption, two factors modulated by the method of consumption, joint consumption of other substances, and individual tolerance levels.

If you’ve just smoked cannabis, we advise you not to look at this photo (oops, too late!)

What should I eat when I get the munchies?

When you feel like eating, marijuana tends to improve the rewarding nature of the foods that you eat. Our brain loves fats, salts, and calorie-rich sugars. But the science behind what we crave is actually quite simple, because fatty, sugary, and high-calorie foods can trigger important reward sensations in the brain by themselves, so combining them with marijuana can generate an extra dose of dopamine. That’s why, when you feel like eating, you always look for that bag of crisps or that slice of pizza that can take your taste buds on a magic carpet ride.

Ideally, you should eat fruit, vegetables, and cereals. So, if you want to satisfy those cannabis-induced munchies, try to choose healthier options that still contain sugars or salts, such as guacamole, nuts, sushi, watermelon, berries, hummus with veggie sticks, or even healthy bean burritos, which are all acceptable alternatives to cured meats, ice cream, or donuts.

When you’re high, it may seem impossible to stop a craving, so it is much better to be preventive and prepare your snacks in advance so you’re not tempted to choose the less healthy alternatives. Having a variety of healthy options at hand means that it is less likely that you’ll turn into the cookie monster!

Can the munchies be good for you?

This is an interesting question, because some people see the munchies as a problem, as they might not want to ingest more calories than necessary. On the contrary, though, this can be an extremely powerful medicine for those patients who need to increase their appetite.

We have the standard image of a cancer patient who is having chemotherapy and smokes marijuana to be able to eat. Or an HIV patient who suffers from weight loss and has found a solution to their lack of appetite through marijuana. But there is a wide spectrum of hunger-related ailments for which this can also be useful, ranging from glaucoma to colitis and, of course, anorexia nervosa.

How to avoid the munchies?

However, if you want to avoid these cravings, there are some proven techniques that can help you achieve it. For instance, you could try eating a nutritious and satisfying meal before using cannabis: if you have a full stomach, you’re less likely to fall victim to an attack of the munchies. Brushing your teeth also helps, as a fresh and minty breath will put a brake on your brain to stop you from pigging out on nachos with cheese. You can also try to distract yourself by listening to music, going for a walk, or doing any other form of exercise that you find enjoyable.

And finally, while THC increases appetite, other cannabinoids seem to have the opposite effect. CBD can actually suppress appetite, as can THCV, which has earned the name of ‘diet weed’. So if you’re looking to curb your hunger when you get high, high-THCV strains, or strains with balanced CBD:THC ratios (like our BCN Diesel CBD) can help you experience THC’s psychoactivity but without pushing you to have a counterproductive feast, which is especially important if you’re making an effort to avoid gaining weight.

Kannabia Seeds Company sells to its customers a product collection, a souvenir. We cannot and we shall not give growing advice since our product is not intended for this purpose.

Kannabia accept no responsibility for any illegal use made by third parties of information published. The cultivation of cannabis for personal consumption is an activity subject to legal restrictions that vary from state to state. We recommend consultation of the legislation in force in your country of residence to avoid participation in any illegal activity.



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