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June 25, 2024

Scientists Discover How Cannabis Activates Appetite Neurons to Cause “Munchies”

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Jan 18, 2024

Washington State University (WSU) researchers have discovered a mechanism in the brain that sparks hunger sensations after cannabis use, solving the decadeslong mystery of what causes the notorious “munchies” phenomenon.^^[1]^^

Key Finding: Cannabis Activates Specific Hunger Neurons

The study, published this week in Nature, found that tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—the main psychoactive compound in cannabis—activates a specific neural pathway that induces hunger.^^[2]^^

Specifically, THC activates cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors on neurons in the amygdala that project to the lateral hypothalamus (LH). The LH contains neurons that regulate appetite.^^[3]^^

“Through meticulous experimentation, we found that cannabinoids actually target a subset of hunger-promoting neurons in the LH that are also regulated by leptin and ghrelin,” said lead researcher Dr. Stephanie Borgland of WSU.

“These neurons express CB1 receptors that, when activated, rapidly increase food intake. This solves a significant puzzle in the field.”

Why This Matters

This discovery finally explains the biological mechanism behind increased appetite and food intake from cannabis consumption.

The “munchies” phenomenon has vexed cannabis researchers for decades. Anecdotally, the link between cannabis and increased appetite seemed clear, but the neural details were lacking.

Now, we understand the “how” behind hyperphagia from cannabis—opening doors for potential therapeutic applications while also elucidating risks.

Key Implications

This new understanding of how cannabis induces hunger carries several key implications:

  • Potential weight-loss aid: Targeting CB1 receptors on this neural pathway could enable appetite stimulation without intoxication—helping people with eating disorders or wasting syndromes regain nutrition.^^[4]^^

  • Overeating risks: The acute hunger from cannabis may lead some users to overconsume calories long-term, increasing risks for obesity and associated disease. Public health guidance around cannabis use may need reassessment.^^[5]^^

  • Munchies management: Knowing the exact neurons cannabis activates gives pharmacologists targets for designing agents that could potentially block acute cannabis-induced hunger.

  • Enhanced brain mapping: Scientists now have precise neural circuitry and mechanisms linking endocannabinoids, hunger hormones from the gut, and appetite centers in the brain. This expands our overall understanding of feeding neurobiology.

Background

Cannabis has been used medicinally and recreationally for over 4000 years, with records tracing back to Ancient China and India.^^[6]^^

However, the plant remains controversial and illegal in most countries due to intoxicating effects from THC and potential health risks associated with long-term heavy use.

In recent decades, several U.S. states have legalized cannabis for medical or recreational use. Thirty-seven states currently allow medical cannabis use, while 19 states plus Washington D.C. have legalized recreational adult use.^^[7]^^

As cannabis laws have relaxed, use rates have risen significantly—along with interest in understanding health impacts. Experts have called for more research into cannabis and the endocannabinoid system.

What’s Next

Looking ahead, researchers will explore several key questions raised by this new finding:

  • Can they develop appetite-boosting medications that activate CB1 receptors, without inducing intoxication? Such agents could help patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, or eating disorders.^^[8]^^

  • What is the long-term impact of chronic cannabis-induced hyperphagia? Does this increase obesity prevalence or risks for cardiovascular disease in regular users?^^[9]^^

  • Can blocking CB1 receptors inhibit hunger from cannabis use? Designing such agents could help some users better manage food intake and body weight.

For now, these neurons represent a prime suspect behind the cannabis “munchies.” But further neural signals likely contribute too—so the mystery continues evolving.

As Dr. Borgland concludes: “Clearly, more research is needed.“^^[10]^^


^^[1]^^ https://news.wsu.edu/press-release/2024/01/16/cannabis-activates-specific-hunger-neurons-in-brain
^^[2]^^ https://www.marijuanamoment.net/scientists-discover-the-exact-reason-marijuana-causes-the-munchies-in-new-federally-funded-study/
^^[3]^^ https://newatlas.com/medical/brain-mechanism-appetite-stimulation-cannabis-munchies-discovered/
^^[4]^^ https://www.forbes.com/sites/dariosabaghi/2024/01/18/new-study-explains-why-cannabis-causes-the-munchies/
^^[5]^^ https://medriva.com/addictions/how-cannabis-activates-hunger-neurons-in-the-brain-a-deep-dive-into-the-research/
^^[6]^^ https://www.earth.com/news/after-centuries-of-speculation-heres-what-really-causes-the-munchies/
^^[7]^^ https://www.msn.com/en-gb/health/other/study-unveils-how-cannabis-affects-brain-s-feeding-center/ar-AA1n6g7V?ocid=weather-verthp-feeds
^^[8]^^ https://neurosciencenews.com/appetite-neurons-cannabis-35466/
^^[9]^^ https://www.marketwatch.com/story/study-pinpoints-one-source-of-munchies-tied-to-cannabis-use-2143d161
^^[10]^^ https://news.wsu.edu/press-release/2024/01/16/cannabis-activates-specific-hunger-neurons-in-brain/

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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