Why do we get the munchies while high? What marijuana does to appetite

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This Feb. 13, 2013 shows different strains of marijuana are displayed during the grand opening of the Seattle location of the Northwest Cannabis Market. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Elaine Thompson

Reaching for potato chips, gummy worms and cheeseburgers when you’re high? American scientists studying the mechanics behind the munchies say that marijuana hijacks the part of our brains that controls appetite.

Yale University researchers say that the insatiable hunger we encounter while high happens because the ingredients in marijuana activate the neurons that control the appetite-suppressing in the brain. Instead of telling your brain to stop because your stomach is full, the neurons end up reversing function.

“By observing how the appetite centre of the brain responds to marijuana, we were able to see what drives the hunger brought about by cannabis and how that same mechanism that normally turns off feeding becomes a driver of eating,” according to lead researcher Tamas Horvath.

“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead. We were also surprised to find that the neurons we thought were responsible for shutting down eating were suddenly being activated and promoting hunger, even when you are full. It fools the central feeding system,” Horvath said.

The study is based on mice – the scientists zeroed in on receptors that play with appetite. Turns out, the cannabinoids in marijuana activated appetite-suppressing neurons, but instead of carrying out their usual function they triggered the rodents to eat more.

The mice kept feeding even though they were full.

And when you’ve got the munchies, you’re selective, the researchers note. You aren’t binging on salad when you’re high – you’re typically reaching for the salty, sweet and fat-laden fare.

The researchers say their findings could help to explain why we deal with insatiable hunger when we shouldn’t have these hunger pangs, but it’ll also shed light on helping cancer patients who lose their appetite during treatment.

Their full findings were published Wednesday night in the journal Nature. Read the study summary here.

VIA Global News

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