Have you ever experienced serious feelings of hunger after consuming cannabis? You know what I mean — that overwhelming desire to reach for every snack food in your cabinet or assemble a peanut butter and pickle sandwich without a second thought. That all-too-common phenomenon is called “the munchies."
One of the best parts about smoking weed is the immense satisfaction a simple bag of chips can bring. But did you know there is scientific reasoning behind why food tastes so much better high?
Here, we explore the scientific and anecdotal evidence around the munchies.
Why does weed make food taste so good?
Not only has science confirmed the existence of the munchies, but anecdotal evidence has supported this experience for as long as cannabis has been consumed. And cannabis has been widely accepted as an appetite stimulant by researchers, but it hasn't been until recently that science uncovered why.
Food might taste better when you're high for a few different reasons.
THC stimulates euphoria
One of the primary reasons that food tastes better high is because of your body's unique endocannabinoid system (ECS), which allows you to feel a joyful, mind-altering “high" when consuming THC, the major psychoactive cannabinoid in cannabis. THC's interaction with CB1 receptors in the brain is responsible for the munchies.
THC typically impacts the brain by stimulating the “feel good" chemical dopamine, leading to feelings of perception-altering euphoria and exaggerated pleasure while simultaneously lowering inhibitions. Long-standing anecdotal evidence suggests that these feelings definitely apply to the sensation of eating when high. Anyone who's ever smoked a joint and went to town on a pint of ice cream afterward (no judgment) can attest to this.
Weed amplifies hunger
Throughout recorded history, people have reported that smoking weed helps stimulate their appetites. In fact, at the height of the HIV/AIDs crisis, a hospital volunteer known as Brownie Mary distributed cannabis-infused brownies to patients.
Mary reportedly baked up to 600 infused brownies per day in the early 1980s, which helped patients eat successfully and keep food down that they otherwise could not. Fortunately, the effect weed has on hunger is not only enjoyable but has important therapeutic implications.
THC may play a role in the production of the hormone known as ghrelin, which acts on appetite centers in the brain to stimulate hunger. And the hungrier we feel, the more satisfaction we derive from eating. This means that eating high can feel more rewarding than usual.
THC makes food smell and taste better
A 2014 study led by Giovanni Marsicano of the Université De Bordeaux determined that cannabis can actually make food smell and taste better. The team of neuroscientists who conducted the study found that interaction with our CB1 receptors enhances the sense of smell. Since human taste and smell are closely linked, a heightened sense of smell magnifies how satisfying and flavorful food tastes, ultimately promoting food intake.
Scientists observed mice in the presence of almond and banana oils to test their hypothesis. According to the study, “mice who were exposed to THC didn't habituate as fast, spending much more time sniffing the oils." Additionally, it was observed that the mice exposed to THC ate more than those who were not. So, during the time odor detection is increased and sensitized, you're not only likely to eat more, but you're also more likely to mindfully enjoy the flavors, aromas, and textures of your food.
THC may not help you eat more veggies, though
So why do we tend to reach for the sugary snacks when we're high? Another study published in the journal Neuropharmacology adds further support to the science behind the munchies. Interestingly, THC increases the pleasure we feel when eating delicious, high-calorie, and sugary foods, but has little effect on foods we already dislike, according to a group of scientists from the University of Cagliari in Italy.
In other words, smoking a joint is unlikely to make you love eating those vegetables you already hate.
Sure, smoking weed might inspire you to concoct a stir-fry made of everything in your kitchen. But, oftentimes stoners can just hit the snack aisle — and they certainly do. One study examined data in thousands of counties across the US and found causal evidence that adult-use legalization may be associated with an increase in sales of junk food, including ice cream, cookies, and chips.
Anyone who's ever consumed cannabis and had a case of the munchies knows what's up — eating can become a high of its own. Now that you know why, go ahead and enjoy that ice cream, bag of chips, or even PB&P with a scientific awareness of why that food tastes so good high.