You’ve likely heard the stories of cannabis smokers getting so hungry after a sesh that they eat through entire pantries. Though it seems like merely a silly coincidence, a complex set of chemical reactions triggers this effect.
Fortunately, “the munchies” are not inevitable. Some people don’t get them at all!
However, in case your belly starts groaning after a few hits, it’s best to get familiar with some tips and tricks ahead of time. Here’s our guide to the munchies, what causes them and how to survive them!
What are the Munchies?
If you’ve ever smoked marijuana, you probably know the trope that it gives you “the munchies.” Shortly after getting in a few good hits, your tummy starts to rumble, sending you on a search for your favourite snack.
Funnily enough, this sudden onset of hunger is not just a funny coincidence. It’s actually caused by interactions between the chemicals in your body and the cannabis plant that ultimately power up your appetite.
Admittedly, the exact bodily processes that trigger the “munchies” are still not well-known.
Fortunately, researchers are starting to grasp just how underwhelming current scientific knowledge is for this topic. So, many have been inspired to start investigating.
For instance, a research team led by Carl A. Roberts conducted two online surveys about users’ appetites and eating experiences after consuming cannabis. The first was an English questionnaire involving nearly 600 people and a Dutch survey for about 160 individuals.
Their findings not only confirmed that cannabis stimulates the appetite but provided new insights into precisely what enhances the suddenly enhanced motivation to eat.
It turns out you don’t just get hungry after smoking weed, but the entire sensory experience of consuming food is altered. Your senses and enjoyment of eating are heightened, leading you to eat more food.
After learning what the munchies are, your natural assumption might be that smoking weed can indirectly lead to weight gain.
Somehow, that’s not the case.
A recent study found that marijuana users “tend to have lower body mass indices than nonusers,” drawing a surprising parallel between cannabis and weight management.
Studies show that consequential weight loss from marijuana use can vary between individuals, affected by other concurrent behaviours and characteristics, such as:
- Short-term versus chronic cannabis use
- Simultaneous use of other prescription or illicit drugs
- Competing compounds from consumed food and drugs in your body for activating the brain’s reward sites
Randy A. Sansone, M.D. of Wright State University School of Medicine and Lori A. Sansone, M.D. of the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base Medical Center writes, “maybe marijuana… increases body weight in low-weight individuals but not in normal-weight or overweight individuals.”
The munchies affect everyone differently. Heck, some people will never experience the munchies at all, even if they smoke marijuana their whole lives!
No matter how intensely you feel this cannabis side effect, it will always retain the ability to influence you in this way due to how it chemically interacts with your body.
Why Does Marijuana Cause the Munchies?
Marijuana causes the munchies due to various chemical reactions that happen after you smoke or otherwise consume the herb.
In 2015, a team of researchers led by Marco Koch investigated the feeling of “satiety” (being full after eating a meal) after cannabis use.
Their study was based on nerve cells, or “neurons,” called “hypothalamic pro-opiomelanocortin” (POMC) neurons’ function in promoting the sensation of fullness.
At the same time, the well-known cannabinoid receptor, CB1, plays a part in this, too. CB1 is central to your body’s ability to regulate its food intake.
Demonstrating that both these mechanisms work hand-in-hand, Koch and colleagues illustrated that increasing CB1’s activity promotes eating.
Additionally, activating this receptor also led to the stimulation of the POMC cells.
This shows that the endocannabinoid system is not only responsible for making you hungry but can also help you feel more satisfied with your meals.
But it doesn’t stop there. All these effects trigger the release of other compounds, including:
- Anorexigenic peptide α-melanocyte-stimulating hormone (α-MSH): This hormone is crucial to regulating metabolic functions. When released, α-MSH leads to reduced food intake and increased energy spending.
- Opioid peptide β-endorphin: These compounds play critical roles in stimulating insulin secretion. The hormone β-endorphin is also generally important to regulating eating and maintaining the body’s energy balance.
With all this considered, marijuana’s effect on your body extends far beyond merely piquing your appetite.
Instead, it triggers a cascade of complex chemical reactions in your body that influences your entire metabolic system in multiple ways, all at once.
How to Survive the Munchies
You’ve just finished the last joint, and you’re craving a bag of chips. The munchies have gotten a hold of you again. Although it may seem like you’ll starve if you don’t give in to your roaring belly, you can use a few tricks to make the hunger pangs subside:
Satisfy Cravings with Healthy Snacks
Sure, you may be hungry – but that doesn’t mean you have to overeat! There are plenty of healthy options for you to fill your belly with.
Cravings tend to call for extremes of salty or sweet. So, some of the best snacks to eat include edamame, vegetable chips, trail mix, dark chocolate, and banana ice cream, to name a few.
A recent study showed that people with the munchies tend to crave salty junk foods than fruits as a snack. Out of 275 participants, nearly two-thirds chose to eat chips between that and fruit. On the other hand, only 32% preferred the fruit, and 7% didn’t want either.
Don’t Stuff Yourself
Whether you’re actually hungry or the feeling is merely a consequence of smoking weed, be careful not to overeat! Stuffing your face with your favourite chips or other guilty pleasure will just make you sick. Coming down from your high will not be enjoyable.
Drink Plenty of Water
Staying hydrated is an excellent way to curb an overactive appetite. Though you should continually sip water throughout the day, research has shown that drinking some before a meal can prevent overeating. People who drink water before dining tend to feel fuller sooner, leading them to eat less.
Snack in Small Servings
Don’t go overboard with your serving sizes. Keeping your plates modest will prevent overeating and help you to eat more slowly throughout the day. Slow eating is correlated with enhanced fullness and better water intake.
Prepare Your Snacks Beforehand
It’s always best to prepare your snacks in advance before you even suspect you have the munchies. Otherwise, you might just go rummaging through the fridge for a bunch of junk food you don’t need! Measure your serving sizes and pick your favourite food combinations ahead of time to make sure you enjoy your snack without compromising your physical fitness.
Munching Through the Munchies
Not everyone gets the munchies, but cannabis will always contain the necessary compounds to activate several metabolic processes in your body at once.
As always, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you know you’re going to be toking up later, take a few minutes to prepare beforehand by sourcing a few healthy snacks, having plenty of water and snacking in small servings beforehand.