As I’ve established in this space and elsewhere, I’m a fan of cannabis.
Which isn’t to say I love everything about it. I could do without cotton mouth, for instance (I can’t believe flower packaging does not require the statement, “May cause dry mouth.”) Nor do I care for the “pot paranoia” anxiety it inspires in some.
My #1 cannabis complaint? Munchies.
“I’ll be really good watching what I eat and then I’ll find myself at a party, smoke a joint and suddenly I’m at the snack table shoveling brownies into my face. It’s like a conveyor belt,” a friend says of his own struggle. “I have no agency. It’s like someone else is working my arm. Something has taken over my body and it’s discovered food.”
Myself, I become ensnared in the savory/sweet swing. It’s not like I can eat a bag of potato chips and a chocolate bar and be done with it; the chocolate bar just makes me want another bag of chips, which makes me want another chocolate bar.
It's the THC
“Historical sources indicate that people as early as 300 BCE knew that cannabis stimulated appetite, especially for sweet and savory food,” reveals Examine.com in “The Science Behind Munchies: Cannabis and Your Appetite,” connecting me to a not-so-grand tradition.
It could be that when you’re under the influence of THC, food simply smells and tastes better than it ordinarily might. But that doesn’t account for the urge to binge.
What does is a combination of effects, one of which Examine.com explains this way: “By partially binding to and thus activating cannabinoid receptor type 1 (CB1), THC increases your appetite … CB1 can be found in the … hypothalamus and rhombencephalon, two sections of the brain that help regulate food intake.”
More specifically, THC triggers neurons in the hypothalamus called POMCs (proopiomelanocortins). When you consume marijuana, POMCs produce beta-endorphins, which, according to Vice, “stimulate appetite and promote cravings.”
Activists like Dennis Peron advocated for the use of medical marijuana to treat the wasting syndrome associated with AIDS. Per Wikipedia: “Peron … saw how patients with AIDS benefited from [cannabis]. His partner … died of AIDS in 1990. In 1991 … he co-founded the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, the first public cannabis dispensary. In 1996, Peron coauthored California Proposition 215,” the passage of which ushered in the era of legal medical marijuana.
Cancer patients, too, have harnessed the munchies to help maintain their appetites, and psychiatrists are looking into the phenomenon as a treatment for anorexia.
The munchies may also benefit someone who’s overdone the edibles. “While the science behind this is still unclear, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that eating sugary and fatty foods can help mitigate the effects of THC,” informs Different Leaf in an article titled “Too Many Edibles” (Fall 2019). “Particularly with edibles, it’s possible to dilute the THC being processed in your liver by consuming (a lot) more food.” The writer goes on to say, “Another effect of THC is lowered blood sugar, which is part of the reason weed makes you hungry — your body is craving food to rebalance and sober up.”
But what about those of us who view the munchies as a menace?
As with all cannabis products, responsible experimentation is key — start low and go slow. Try something with a relatively high percentage of CBD, which provides a counterweight to THC. I’ve found that Harlequin, with 5% THC and 8.5% CBD, does not give me the munchies. Westword recommends AC/DC, Cannatonic, CBD OX, Dark Star and Spectrum #12, among others.
Or you could sample a strain high in THCV, one of 100+ cannabinoids that doesn’t get as much attention as THC and CBD but should because it seems to act as an appetite suppressant, by blocking the effect of THC on CB1 receptors. Westword points out that “most African sativas such as Durban Poison, Red Congolese, Doug’s Varin, Power Plant, Jack the Ripper [and] Skunk #1 … carry higher-than-average amounts of THCV” and highlights Blue Dream, Moby Dick and XJ-13. Find out more about these strains and the ones cited above at Leafly.
Sometimes, though, you want to puff what’s passed, so it pays to have a few strategies in your back pocket. One I literally keep in my back pocket is Extra Classic Bubble gum. When the chips are down, I’ve been known to chain-chew a pack.
And I always have popcorn and pineapple on hand at home because I can eat a lot of each and feel satisfied without suffering the weight-gain consequences of, say, potato chips and chocolate bars.
Speaking of, researchers are investigating how the mechanism behind the munchies may one day help vanquish obesity. “Studies on individual cells show that blocking CB1 increases the production of adiponectin, an anti-inflammatory hormone negatively associated with obesity,” notes Examine.com.
I believe THC can benefit just about everyone in some way if they know what's right for them. What's right for me (and, perhaps, you) is avoiding the munchies when I can, indulging them mindfully when I must and appreciating that what I view as a problem is a solution for seriously ill patients.