Worms Can Get Munchies from Cannabis

27 Apr 2023
worms get munchies

According to a recent study published in Current Biology, worms can get munchies from cannabis. Although it is unclear whether the worms experienced a high. The study suggests that cannabis may interfere with the appetite-regulating mechanism. Cannabinoids bind to proteins in the brain, nervous system, and other parts of the body.Including the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in eating, anxiety, learning and memory, reproduction, and metabolism.

The researchers soaked worms in anandamide, an endocannabinoid, and found that the worms actively sought out and consumed more high-calorie food, staying longer than usual. The study suggests that worms could be used to screen drugs that target proteins involved in cannabinoid signaling and metabolism. With potential implications for human health. Resulting in worms can get munchies from cannabis.

According to the study, administration of THC or endocannabinoids in mammals induces hedonic feeding. As well as, anandamide was found to alter food consumption and appetitive behavior. Cannabinoids dramatically alter the sensitivity of one of the main food-detecting olfactory neurons in nematodes. Making them more sensitive to favored food odors and less sensitive to non-favored odors.


This effect is similar to how THC enhances the taste of food in humans. While it is interesting to note that worms can have similar experiences to humans after consuming cannabis. The study has practical applications in drug screening. Cannabinoid signaling is present in most body tissues, and drugs that target proteins involved in cannabinoid signaling and metabolism could have profound implications for human health. The study leaves some questions unanswered, including how cannabinoids alter the sensitivity of nematodes’ olfactory neurons. Which lack cannabinoid receptors, and how psychedelics interact with nematodes.

In the T-maze experiment, under normal conditions, the worms indeed preferred the higher-quality food. But when soaked in anandamide, that preference became even stronger: They flocked to the high-quality food and stayed there longer than they usually did.

Neuroscientist Shawn Lockery in the College of Arts and Sciences,

“We suggest that this increase in existing preference is analogous to eating more of the foods you would crave anyway,” Lockery said.  “It’s like choosing pizza versus oatmeal.”

Higher-quality food might call to mind a nutritious spread of fruits, veggies and whole grains. But in evolution, “higher-quality” food is the kind packed with calories to ensure survival. So in this case, “higher-quality” worm food is more like human junk food: It packs in a lot of calories quickly.

“The endocannabinoid system helps make sure that an animal that’s starving goes for high-fat-and-sugar-content food.” Lockery said. It’s one reason why, after consuming cannabis, you’re more likely to reach for chocolate pudding. However, you’re not necessarily hungry for a salad.

In follow-up experiments, Lockery’s team was able to identify some of the neurons affected by anandamide. Under the influence, Worms Can Get Munchies from Cannabis. These neurons became more sensitive to the smell of higher-quality food and less sensitive to the smell of lower-quality food.

The results drive home just how old the endocannabinoid system is, in terms of evolution. Worms and humans last shared a common ancestor more than 600 million years ago, yet cannabinoids affect our food preferences in a similar way.

“It’s a really beautiful example of what the endocannabinoid system was probably for at the beginning,” Lockery said.

The similarity in response between worms and humans. Studies suggests that worms can be a useful model for studying the endocannabinoid system.


In particular, one current limitation with tapping into the medicinal properties of cannabinoids is their broad-ranging effects. Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body, so a drug targeting these receptors could help the problem at hand. However, it might also have lots of undesired side effects. For instance, smoking weed might relieve your pain, but could also make it hard to focus on work.

But the other nearby proteins that are also involved in the cascade of chemical messages varies depending on the body system at play. So better drugs could aim at these other proteins, narrowing the effects of the drug.

Because scientists know so much about worm genetics. They’re are a good study system for picking apart those kinds of pathways, Lockery suggests.

“The ability to rapidly find signaling pathways in the worm could help identify better drug targets. With fewer side effects,” he said.

By Laurel Hamers, University Communications

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