Worms get the munchies too, according to new study
Smoking weed is often associated with snacking—aka the munchies—and it turns out humans aren’t the only ones who crave a tasty treat after they imbibe.
According to recent research published in Current Biology (on 4/20, no less), roundworms also have a stimulated appetite after cannabinoid exposure. The study, conducted at the University of Oregon in Eugene, found that the Caenorhabditis elegans worms fed for longer periods of time and preferred high-quality meals vs. junk food—a far cry from the stoner stereotype.
In their experiment, the research team centered on the endocannabinoid anandamide, a naturally-occurring enzyme within mammals. The compound is a product of the endocannabinoid system, a part of the central nervous system that processes cannabinoids like THC and CBD.
The worms were dipped in a solution containing anandamide and placed in a T-shaped maze containing two different options for food. Those who were under the influence preferred more nutritious bacteria than their sober counterparts and tended to enjoy their meals at a slower pace.
In follow-up experiments, the team genetically engineered the same species of worms to have human endocannabinoid receptors. Those worms also preferred healthier food. Researchers concluded that the cannabinoids stimulate food-detecting olfactory neurons, which heightened the aromas of the more nutritious food.
Scientists deduce that the appetite-stimulating effects of cannabis emerged over 500 million years ago when the evolutionary paths of C. elegans worms and humans split. The findings suggest that the worms could be used in future studies to help understand the effects of cannabis on the human nervous system.
As cannabis legalization spreads, the demand for peer-reviewed studies on the plant continues to increase, especially as it relates to potential health benefits.
“The more we know at a basic level about drug physiology, the more healthy our society will ultimately be,” Shawn Lockery, who led the study, previously told Nature.