Explained

Ask Dr. Leigh: Why does cannabis make me hungry?

Using cannabis can have a big impact on your physical and mental health—for better, and sometimes for worse. That’s why it’s important to consult a healthcare provider before experimenting.

Here at GreenState, cannabis clinician Dr. Leigh Vinocur is here to answer your questions on healthy living with cannabis.

Editor’s Note: The answer to this question is meant to supplement, not replace, advice, diagnoses, and treatment from a healthcare provider.  Always consult a medical professional when using cannabis for medicinal purposes, and do not disregard the advice of your healthcare provider because of anything you may read in this article. 

Q: Why does cannabis make me hungry?

A: It is well known that consuming cannabis with THC can stimulate one’s appetite, a phenomenon often called the “munchies” in colloquial terms.

The underlying physiology may be explained in a study published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers found that the CB1 receptors in the olfactory area of the brain (where smell is sensed) in fasting mice promoted increased food intake by increasing their odor detection. We know that taste and smell are closely related senses. Think about when you have a cold, and your nose is stuffed up and you can’t taste the food you are eating. Likewise, as an emergency physician, I have seen many COVID-19 patients reporting the common symptom of loss of smell called anosmia but it has also led to a  warped unpleasant sense of taste too. And many complain of food having a bad metallic chemical taste.

THC also interacts with CB1 receptors in another area in the brain called the nucleus accumbens, described as the reward circuit of the brain, releasing the neurotransmitter dopamine associated with pleasurable sensations such as eating. Additionally, THC interacts with receptors in the hypothalamus, the area in the brain that regulates internal functions such as appetite, body weight and body temperature. It facilitates the hormone Ghrelin to be released which also stimulates hunger and appetite.

And while weight gain may be an unwanted  side effect in adult recreational use of cannabis, it can, in fact, be a beneficial effect of medical cannabis. This physiological effect is one of the main reasons we see cachexia and wasting syndrome, which is severe weight loss and muscles loss, listed as a top qualifying medical condition for cannabis use. This syndrome can occur in the end stage of many chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), end stage-kidney disease, congestive heart failure (CHF) or cancer and HIV/AIDS. Cannabis has proven to be a useful therapeutic tool for these patients to help get their appetite back as well as to help them start to gain some weight and rebuild their lost muscle mass.

Got cannabis questions? Ask Doctor Leigh. Send your questions to GreenState’s Assistant Editor Elissa Esher at elli.esher@hearst.com and keep an eye out for new answers from Dr. Leigh Vinocur every month.

Dr. Leigh Vinocur is a board-certified emergency physician who also has a cannabis consulting practice for patients and industry. She is a member of the Society of Cannabis Clinicians and a graduate of the inaugural class, with the first Master of Science in the country in Medical Cannabis Science and Therapeutics from the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

The response to this question was not written or edited by Hearst. The authors are solely responsible for the content.