Weed Science: Why Do We Get The Munchies?

Just about everyone who’s familiar with cannabis is also familiar with one of its most common side effects: The Munchies.

the munchies - donut wallWhile many use cannabis specifically for its potential to boost their appetites, it isn’t necessarily what everyone wants – several people also visit us asking for product recommendations that won’t cause them to want to eat through their whole pantries! But what’s the science behind this phenomenon? Why does smoking weed make us hungry?

Short answer: “the munchies” occur when the production of Ghrelin is stimulated independently from the usual cycle of metabolic hunger.

Right, okay… but what does that actually mean? Long answer incoming!

Ghrelin, referred to commonly as the hunger hormone, is produced + released predominantly by the stomach, but also in small quantities by the pancreas and brain. Its primary functions are:

  • Appetite stimulation
  • Increasing food intake
  • Promoting balanced fat storage

Ghrelin is regulated mainly by food intake, with levels usually rising before regular meal times when the stomach is empty. The production and release of this hormone generally stops when the stomach expands after being filled with food – unless you’re smoking cannabis. The inhalation of cannabis smoke is associated with the release of ghrelin, but scientifically (at least, as far as our research has uncovered), there’s been no conclusive evidence that it even is THC which causes these effects. Certain terpenes may be more likely than others to increase hunger, different methods of consumption are likely to elicit differing effects on users, and everyone’s body chemistry is just different enough to make it difficult to guarantee any consistent effect from one person to the next.

the munchies - pastel candies What is fairly certain is that a given cultivar or strain’s effect on hunger can vary dramatically from one person to the next. One person could smoke a strain that causes them to want to eat everything in sight, and the friend they smoked it with could feel no boost in appetite at all. Like many other aspects of cannabis, so much of each individual’s experience is subjective – and much of it can depend on the frequency with which someone uses cannabis. For example, if someone uses cannabis with supreme regularity (daily, more than once a day), their body can develop all kinds of ghrelin release schedules that aren’t necessarily around the same time each day. In some cases, the user’s appetite and hunger cycle may be disrupted for the duration of their cannabis use.  

While the fact that there’s so much potential for differences between each individual and their relationship/experience with cannabis, we believe the variation is more about the human’s phenotype and genetic makeup than that of the cultivar they’re smoking.

It’s likely that the exact scientific cause of the munchies may maintain its mysteriousness. So since everyone’s body chemistry is unique, we’ve found it can be helpful for cannabis consumers to keep a strain journal. If you jot down some notes about what does and doesn’t work for you, you may be more likely to begin to crack the code of how cannabinoids work best for your body. And you can always feel free to ask any of our educated budtenders for recommendations, whether you already know what works well for you or not. We’ll look forward to helping you find the best products for you!