Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
One of the more curious side effects of cannabis is how it gives users “the munchies.” Pot-induced hunger is often laughed about and is the butt of many marijuana-based jokes. However, if you’re not used to this side effect, it can be disquieting. Having an insatiable appetite may make you feel out of sorts and could also cause weight gain.
Don’t fret — in general, this side effect is not serious and will fade away as you continue your medical marijuana treatment.
For many, this hunger-inducing side effect is one of the reasons medical marijuana is so sought after. Certain illnesses result in decreased appetite, such as patients undergoing chemotherapy or those with AIDS. This can lead to serious complications like weight loss and malnutrition which can hinder the body’s ability to heal. Cannabis is one of the only medications that can be used to increase a patient’s appetite both safely and effectively.
You may be wondering why you’re so ravenous when you use marijuana. There appears to be a combination of contributing factors that make cannabis users so hungry:
The reason marijuana can affect the body in these ways is because our endocannabinoid system (ECS) reacts strongly to the cannabinoids found in cannabis, specifically THC. The ECS acts as a bridge between our mind and body because it contains many receptor sites throughout our nervous system. It regulates certain physiological functions, like emotions, sensations of pain and hunger.
Cannabinoids like THC mimic the ECS and bind themselves to receptor sites. Leptin is a hormone released by fat cells that tells your body to stop eating, specifically when you’ve had enough to eat. It also counteracts another neurotransmitter that induces hunger, anandamide. THC binds itself to the same receptor sites as anandamide, increasing appetite.
With all these hormones and neurotransmitters getting released, you’re left with a very clear thought — “I’m starving.”
With the combination of increased ghrelin, which prepares your gastrointestinal system for the intake of food, and an increased sense of smell, the munchies aren’t all bad. In fact, when you have pot-induced hunger, food tastes amazing. That’s why it’s such an effective treatment for patients who have nausea or trouble eating due to illness.
But you may be concerned that there are long-term negative side effects of the munchies. The only thing that should be regulated is the tendency to overeat when feeling the effects of medical marijuana. Even if you’ve just eaten, cannabis can kick-start your appetite into overdrive. For those looking to stay healthy, it’s important to be aware of this side effect ahead of time and try some simple preventative measures.
If you’re concerned about marijuana’s hunger-inducing properties ruining your diet or causing unwanted overeating, here are a few things you can do to minimize the munchies:
All medications and pharmaceuticals have potential side effects, but we choose to use them anyway when the benefits outweigh the risks — the same is true for medical marijuana. Although there are some potential unwanted side effects, the help that it’s brought to countless individuals is incredible.
If you’re considering pursuing a medical marijuana license in your state, our advice should not replace that of a doctor or budtender. Your situation is unique, which is why you should consult a marijuana doctor in your state to discuss treatment options for your condition. Local dispensaries can also be contacted if you need help picking a strain.