While today's generation of consumers works to shift the evolving societal perception of cannabis, it is interesting to take a closer look at the science behind the munchies, especially in the medical field where patients undergoing cancer treatment are working to use the side effect in their favor.
Outside of producing euphoric effects, the increase in appetite associated with cannabis is perhaps the most well-known attribute of the plant. Given that historic sources indicate people were using cannabis to stimulate their appetites as early as 300 B.C., researchers have been particularly intrigued by how the plant impacts hunger for quite some time now. Scientists have found that THC, one of the more prevalent cannabinoids found in female cannabis sativa or cannabis indica plants, is directly responsible for most of the psychological effects of marijuana.
The body's endocannabinoid system becomes activated when THC enters the body and attaches naturally to cannabinoid receptors type 1 (CB1), such as those concentrated in areas of the brain associated with thinking, memory, metabolism, sexual function, coordination, time perception and pleasure. CB1 is found throughout different parts of the body, playing a role in increasing appetite in a variety of ways. CB1 receptors can be found in the basal ganglia (where it may enhance eating pleasure), the limbic forebrain (where it may enhance food palatability), the stomach and small intestine (both of which regulate ghrelin which is a hormone that speeds up digestion and stimulates appetite, as well as increases sense of smell and taste) and two parts of the brain that help regulate food intake, the hypothalamus and rhombencephalon.
When THC activates CB1, it increases appetite through several mechanisms, including decreasing the body's levels of peptide tyrosine tyrosine (PYY), which in turn increases your ghrelin level and as a result increases your appetite. Put simply, there actually is quite a sophisticated scientific explanation supporting the "munchies" effect caused by THC. As such, it is a natural segue to wonder if cannabidiol (CBD), the non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis, yields a similar response in the body. The short answer is that CBD works differently, and doesn't interact with the CB1 receptor the same way that THC does.
CBD may have an indirect impact on appetite, such as gently elevating a person's mood or relieving anxiety and chronic pain, which could play a subsequent role in encouraging appetite. Additionally, the body's endocannabinoid system plays a role in maintaining homeostasis, and studies have found taking CBD can help the body function properly, therefore leading to improved health overall. So, while CBD won't signal the brain to activate an increased appetite the same way that THC does (and therefore not cause the same "munchies" effect), it could still indirectly yield a variety of medicinal benefits that relate to increasing appetite. Additionally, researchers are working to better understand how the body interacts with THC and CBD simultaneously, instead of just independently. While more research is needed to better understand the nuances of this, early evidence indicates that CBD can actually enhance the effects of THC in some instances, a phenomenon commonly referred to as the entourage effect.
As we continue to learn more about how the body interacts with CBD and THC, we will be able to better understand and utilize the potential medicinal benefits of cannabis, such as when it comes to stimulating appetite.