We’ve all gotten them at some point. The realization comes at one in the morning, as you graze through the refrigerator, considering a taco feast complete with waffles and ice cream. There is no way around it; you are high and food must be eaten, even if consuming the last few inches of real estate in your bloated gut.
One of the most well-known side effects of any hemp or cannabis high is that feeling of rampant hunger, a.k.a., the "munchies." But why is this reaction so common and mainstream?
Cannabis and hemp contain compounds called cannabinoids, which interact with the body's endocannabinoid system. The cannabinoid THC (found in our Wonderland and Rabbit Hole gummies) is known to have a significant impact on appetite. It’s so dependable, THC is used to treat conditions like nausea and loss of appetite, particularly in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. This is because it naturally stimulates the release of a hormone called Ghrelin.
How does Ghrelin work?
Ghrelin is a hormone produced by cells in the stomach and pancreas that plays a significant role in regulating appetite and food intake. It's often referred to as the "hunger hormone" because it stimulates the appetite and triggers feelings of hunger.
When the stomach is empty, Ghrelin is secreted by cells in the stomach lining. The hormone travels to the brain, where it binds to receptors in the hypothalamus, the part that regulates appetite and energy expenditure.
When Ghrelin binds to these receptors, it triggers the release of neuropeptide Y and agouti-related peptide, which stimulate hunger and increase food intake. Ghrelin also reduces the amount of energy the body burns, which leads to an increase in body weight and fat storage.
Interestingly, the effects of Ghrelin aren't limited to just hunger and weight gain. It’s also been shown to have an effect on other functions, such as:
Regulation of glucose metabolism: Ghrelin increases insulin resistance and glucose production, which can lead to increased blood sugar levels.
Regulation of growth hormone: Ghrelin stimulates the release of growth hormone, which plays a role in development, muscle mass and bone density.
Stress regulation: Ghrelin has been shown to have a protective effect against stress-induced anxiety and depression.
Cardiovascular function: Ghrelin has been shown to improve cardiovascular function by reducing inflammation and oxidative stress.
Another way that cannabis can increase the feeling of hunger is by enhancing the sense of taste and smell. THC can heighten the senses, making food taste and smell more appealing. This can lead to an increased desire to eat, even if it'd otherwise be the last thing on your mind.
On top of everything else, THC can also affect the brain's reward system, which can make food more pleasurable to eat. The brain releases dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, which makes food seem more appealing and enjoyable even if you're far from physically hungry.
There's nothing extremely scientific about one's loss of inhibitions other than plain old observation and reflection. Think about it: there's no way you'd turn down a chocolate cake if it was put in front of you during a high jaunt into the stratosphere, right? Typically, ambition and self-awareness play a big role in turning down the foods we know we shouldn't binge on, but that sort of restraint can fly right out the window in the midst of a giggling kitchen adventure at 4:21pm.
Note that the "munchies" effect is not universal. Some of us have an automatic post-puff urge to hit the buffet, and some of us never feel even a twinge of hunger. Others sit in the unpredictable middle. It can depend on a variety of factors, including tolerance, method of consumption, even the strain.
Well, next time you’re staring at the bag of Lay’s, just recall that easy-to-remember reason you feel like you’re dying of starvation: it’s the natural reaction to the cannabinoids, along with elevated Ghrelin, taste and smells like freakin’ hound dog, and the brain's reward system going rogue. Too much information? Simplify by setting goals for your munching and pre-weighing out your servings of junk food. Enjoy in moderation if you can and always remember the fiending glutton’s best friend: chewing gum.