Finally! Scientists Discover Why Marijuana Gives You The Munchies

by John Haltiwanger

Science has finally helped explain why you once ate an entire birthday cake and then decided to put chicken nuggets on top of your pizza after smoking pot.

In other words, a new study has revealed why weed gives people the munchies.

If you are unfamiliar with this concept, Urban Dictionary has got you covered:

For some reason, even if a person has recently eaten a full meal, marijuana continues to make him or her hungry.

Anyone who has ever smoked pot has likely experienced this sensation, or what one might refer to as "munchie madness."

As it turns out, this is due to the neurological effects of marijuana.

For many years, scientists have been researching the influence marijuana has on the brain, including how it's related to hunger.

Now it seems they have finally pinpointed the exact impact it has on inducing the munchies.

Hunger is controlled by brain cells known as POMC neurons, which are located in the hypothalamus region.

This part of the brain impacts a person's feelings of sexual arousal, levels of alertness and need to eat. Normally, POMC neurons help suppress our instinct or desire to eat.

They're kind of like an on-off button for a person's appetite.

Usually when we eat, the brain fires POMC neurons to tell us we're full. Without them, we could conceivably become incredibly fat.

Neuroscientists decided to study the effect of marijuana on POMC neurons with mice. What they found was fascinating.

When the mice were given chemical compounds called cannabinoids, which are found in marijuana, scientists expected it to prevent POMC neurons from firing.

This hypothesis makes sense, given that pot typically inspires hunger.

They actually found that cannabinoids increased the frequency at which POMC neurons were fired.

But these brain cells, normally known to suppress hunger, actually served to increase it. The mice were much hungrier after being exposed to cannabinoids.

Professor Tamas Horvath, of Yale University School of Medicine, explained the process by relating it to the functions of a car. POMC neurons are meant to be like brakes, slowing your appetite down.

When marijuana is introduced into the equation, however, it's much like slamming on the brakes only to have them act like the gas pedal instead.

In essence, pot makes you ridiculously hungry because it tricks the part of the brain responsible for your appetite.

As the Daily Mail reports, these findings could support the notion that marijuana can be used to help people who lose their appetites for medical reasons, such as cancer patients.

It seems that science is on the side of proponents of medicinal marijuana, at least in this instance.

In fact, Dr. Vivek Murthy, the US Surgeon General, recently argued that he believes marijuana can be useful for certain medical purposes.

At present, marijuana is illegal by federal law, but medicinal marijuana has been legalized in 23 states and Washington, DC. Colorado, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Washington, DC have also legalized the recreational use of marijuana.

It seems that other states may follow their lead in the future.

As studies like this continue to arise and more doctors come forward in support of medicinal marijuana, the movement for legalization will certainly be bolstered.

Indeed, it seems it's only a matter of time until medicinal marijuana is accessible in all 50 states, which will likely pave the way for the legality of recreational use nationwide.

Citations: Why cannabis triggers the munchies (The Daily Mail), How Marijuana Hijacks Your Brain To Give You The Munchies (NPR), Hypothalamic POMC neurons promote cannabinoid induced feeding (Nature), How pot gives people the munchies (USA Today), Munchies (Urban Dictionary), US Surgeon General Vivek Murthy Says Marijuana Can Be Helpful For Some Medical Conditions (Huffington Post), Vermont Could Be Next State To Legalize Recreational Marijuana (Huffington Post)