Passionate cannabis lovers have long associated cannabis with the onset of the munchies. After lighting up, it’s all too common to find yourself elbow deep in the refrigerator contemplating snack options.
Although the munchies might be a mild annoyance for some, it’s a valuable medicinal benefit for others. Patients around the world are on a quest to find the best cannabis strains for appetite stimulation. But, why does medical cannabis work in the human body to increase appetite?
Much of the known medicinal value of this marvelous plant comes from its interaction with the endocannabinoid system. This system works tirelessly to keep the body in a state of homeostasis – or perfect balance. When put under stress, like when it’s fighting disease, this system struggles to keep up. All the jobs it’s responsible for, like appetite regulation, fail to function at full capacity.
Because cannabis helps to regulate the endocannabinoid system, it can help to manage appetite. This is why cannabis has become an essential tool for patients undergoing chemotherapy, diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, or any other number of issues that impact appetite.
The Endocannabinoid System and Your Appetite
When everything is functioning correctly, how does the endocannabinoid system regulate your appetite? The endocannabinoid system is a series of receptors, spread all over the body, connected through a vast communication network. The body sends out tiny molecular chemical communications, called endocannabinoids, to tell different systems when to turn on, off, and more.
Through the release of endocannabinoids, the endocannabinoid system tells you when to feel hungry, when to digest, and when to start ‘gastric emptying.’ From start to finish, the endocannabinoid system plays a key role in all aspects of hunger and digestion.
The endocannabinoid system contains two known receptors, CB1 and CB2. Most of the receptors responsible for appetite and digestion are the CB1 receptors. We now know there are receptors in several parts of the human brain and beyond, which influence the onset of the munchies.
- First, there are receptors within the basal ganglia and limbic forebrain, which makes food tasty and pleasurable.
- Second, there are endocannabinoid receptors in the digestive tract, and when activated, they release an appetite-stimulating hormone.
- Third, the hypothalamus and rhombencephalon (which are other areas of the brain which regulate food intake) also have receptors.
Together, these combine to totally control how much er eat, how full we feel, and how pleasurable food is.
What About Cannabis and Appetite?
It’s all well and good to know how the endocannabinoid system regulates appetite, but when does medical cannabis come into play? Why do people find more pleasure in the food they eat after lighting up?
The munchies are an extremely common side effect of cannabis because the plant interacts seamlessly with the endocannabinoid system. Nearly all of cannabis’ medical applications stem from the hundred-plus cannabinoids the plant contains. These cannabinoids, at a molecular level, look precisely like endocannabinoids. When we light up, they easily penetrate the blood-brain barrier and act like our own endocannabinoids.
There are two primary cannabinoids, THC and CBD. Beyond these two main contenders, there are dozens of others that help influence the different experiences between one strain and the next. Although scientists are just beginning to understand how these lesser-known cannabinoids influence the experience, they are likely why one strain feels creative, another feels sleepy, and still, another triggers a rapid onset of the munchies intense appetite stimulation.
But, what part of cannabis stimulates appetite? After years of investigation, what we do know is how THC plays a key role. There is a lot of science linking this powerfully intoxicating cannabinoid with increased appetite. THC is the only cannabinoid that creates a ‘high,’ but it also has some well-established health benefits. Appetite stimulation is just one of them.
The Role of THC in Increasing Appetite
Although cannabis is under intense study for dozens of possible medical applications, researchers have proven its ability to stimulate appetite. In fact, this benefit is so well established pharmaceutical companies have transformed cannabis into a prescription drug.
That’s right — there is already a prescription drug made from cannabis approved for use as an appetite stimulant. Nabiximols, also known as Sativex, is a cannabis extract made from equal parts THC:CBD. Patients with HIV/AIDS or going through chemotherapy may receive a prescription for this drug to help improve appetite.
But you don’t need a pharmaceutical to get the appetite-stimulating effects of cannabis. Pure flowers, delicious infused-edibles, or tinctures all work to increase your hunger and make food taste delicious.
THC forms a direct bond with the CB1 receptor. If you are following along, that is the receptor most linked to appetite and digestion. Like a hand fitting into a glove, THC fits into the CB1 receptor. It’s why you’ll feel stoned after consumption of a THC-rich strain, but also why you’ll start to get hungry.
Once THC enters the bloodstream, it reduces the production of a hormone, which slows down appetite. Less of this hormone means more room an appetite-stimulating hormone mentioned above. THC also stimulates one of two neuron pathways, responsible for producing hunger pains.
What’s the Best Medical Cannabis to Increase Appetite?
What are the best cannabis strains for appetite? Right now, any list you’ll find online is mostly conjecture and opinion. We know THC helps with appetite, but what we don’t know is how the other cannabinoids play into it yet.
The THC content of any given cannabis product is just part of the picture. As you might recall, the cannabis-based pharmaceutical used for the treatment of appetite is made up of 1:1 THC to CBD. Having other cannabinoids around might be very beneficial.
Plus, some research suggests that the way you ingest cannabis impacts the strength of the munchies. There are early studies indicating suppositories might increase caloric intake over other methods (tinctures, inhalables, edibles). But this is early days yet. There is still so much more to understand about the best kind of cannabis for appetite stimulation.
If you are struggling with low appetite and weight loss related to illness, medical cannabis is a useful tool to have at your disposal. With the array of strains and types of products available, there is something suitable for everyone and every situation. Take your time and experiment with strains, potencies, and products. Maybe you love tinctures over edibles, or vaping over smoking. The beauty of cannabis is the variety.