The Science Behind the Munchies: Understanding the Effects of THC on Appetite

The Science Behind the Munchies: Understanding the Effects of THC on Appetite

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If you have any experience with cannabis, chances are you have also experienced the phenomenon known among enthusiasts as “the munchies.” The munchies are that near-insatiable quest for indulgent snacks that follow many THC-infused sessions. Everything tastes better, with each mouthful a sensational flavor-bomb. 

While some people love the heightened pleasure they get from each bite, not everyone enjoys the appetite stimulation. But if you want to beat a case of the munchies, we first have to look at the science behind this cannabis-related effect. With that out of the way, we can dive into tactics to avoid or reduce this complicated sensation.

What Are the Munchies?

woman indulging in a juicy burger

Alongside sleepiness and relaxation, the munchies are a mild effect related to cannabis consumption — and it's one you've probably seen referenced throughout pop culture. In every cannabis cult classic, from Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle to Pineapple Express, the munchies inevitably make it into the punch line.

Jokes aside, from a scientific perspective, the munchies are technically an effect known as hyperphagia, or "a feeling of extreme, insatiable hunger." When it's related to cannabis, it's usually tied to products with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), although there are other cannabinoids shown to influence hunger, like cannabigerol (CBG).

While the munchies tend to receive a large share of attention when it comes to cannabis' effects, they are just one among many related to the body's endocannabinoid system. This system regulates hunger, pain, memory, and a host of other internal functions. Cannabinoids, like THC, interact with our endocannabinoid receptors, and some of this activity influences appetite. 

Why Does Cannabis Give You the Munchies?

The munchies are by no means an unexplained effect that magically seems to increase food intake. Interestingly, researchers have discovered that cannabinoids, like THC, work through at least three biological mechanisms to influence hunger, cues, flavor, and pleasure.

Changes Hunger Signaling

woman enjoying a slice of pizza and coke

For starters, neuroscientists have discovered that THC impacts a part of our brain called the hypothalamus, which is responsible for telling us when we are full. Normally, when we aren't experiencing the effects of THC, this part of our brain sends out a signal that once we've eaten enough, it's okay to stop.

Yet, when cannabinoids enter the picture, researchers have determined these neurons no longer produce "stop" signals and instead produce endorphins, a chemical signal known to increase hunger levels.

As Sarah Leibowitz, one of this study's authors, told NPR, "Even if you just had dinner… [after partaking of cannabis], all of a sudden these neurons that told you to stop eating become the drivers of hunger." 

Makes Smells More Alluring

woman and man smelling their takeout food

In 2014, researchers also determined that cannabis, specifically THC, enhances our sense of smell. It does this by interacting with the CB1 endocannabinoid receptors in the main olfactory bulb, an area of our brain related to smell.

An enhanced sense of smell is likely why food just tastes so much better while feeling the effects of THC. After all, "Much of the flavor of food comes from smell," according to UCONN HealthThe better your sense of smell, the greater "your ability to experience flavor."

Increases Dopamine Levels

woman enjoying ice cream
Finally, cannabis also increases dopamine levels, both tonic and phasic levels. 

Tonic dopamine is the steady baseline level of dopamine activity in the brain related to motivation, reward, and movement. Phasic dopamine, on the other hand, involves brief bursts of dopamine release in response to immediate, specific stimuli — like a tasty munchie-fueled snack. 

As NPR said, dopamine is "the swoon that comes with eating tasty things."

How Long Do The Munchies Last?

Cannabis-related hunger is very hard to predict. It all depends on how your body ends up processing (or metabolizing) cannabis. This can vary quite a bit from one person to the next, even with the same-sized portion.

For example, your experience level and tolerance may influence the duration of effects, but it doesn't stop there. How long the munchies last will also depend on what type of cannabis product you've consumed. The effects from an edible will linger longer than a few puffs from a joint. If you are already snacking, other foods may synergize for a longer THC experience.

Plus, your experience will also change based on cannabinoid contentResearch tells us that THC is much more likely to trigger the munchies than most other cannabinoids, which means a Sativa Live Rosin Gummy with 25 mg of Delta-9 will likely have more of an effect on your hunger cues than a purely CBD gummy.

But with those considerations out of the way, it’s nice to have a few rough guidelines to help create a more predictable experience. Generally speaking, the strength and length of the munchies effect tend to follow the same trajectory as the rest of your cannabis experience, from onset to duration times:

Inhaled: Vaping, Smoking

  • Onset: 5 to 10 minutes
  • Peak effects: 30 minutes
  • Duration: 2 to 4 hours

Ingested: Edibles

  • Onset: 60 to 180 minutes
  • Peak effects: 4 hours
  • Duration: 6 to 8 hours

How Do You Avoid the Munchies?

man looking into refrigerator holding sandwich

Try experimenting with smaller servings of cannabis. 

Instead of diving into the highest-potency product you can find, you may want to dabble with microdosing, trying a product from our 1:1 Canna Classic Line. Every gummy contains just 5 milligrams of hemp-derived Delta-9 THC and 5 milligrams of CBD, which means less total impact on the CB1 endocannabinoid receptors. Logically, a smaller serving size should translate into an equivalent reduction in hunger cues and smell sensitivity. 

Try products that go beyond THC. 

Not all cannabinoids cause hyperphagia. Whether it's a drop of CBDA + CBGA Tincture or a nibble of our HHC Mood Gummies, you may find your food intake goes down without such a focus on THC. Additional cannabinoids in the profile may also help lessen the effects of THC under the premise of the Entourage Effect. 

Conquering the Munchies: A Bite-Sized Strategy

So, why does cannabis give you the munchies? First, it makes you feel hungry, even if you’re full. Second, it makes food taste better thanks to boosting the sensation of smell. Third, it makes every bite more pleasant than the last, thanks to a cannabis-related rush of dopamine.

Undeniably, because cannabis works through so many channels, when the munchies hit, they are hard to ignore. For those who would prefer to avoid any unnecessary appetite stimulation (yet still enjoy the other effects of cannabis), try experimenting with a smaller THC serving size or branching out into other cannabinoids like CBD and HHC (hexahydrocannabinol). 

Whatever cannabis journey you enjoy, happy exploring, and mind your mind. 

FDA Disclaimer: The statements made regarding these products have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The efficacy of these products has not been confirmed by FDA-approved research. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All information presented here is not meant as a substitute for or alternative to information from health care practitioners. Please consult your healthcare professional about potential interactions or other possible complications before using any product. The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act requires this notice.

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