Ask the Elegant Stoner: Does weed make you hungry?
Welcome to the first edition of our new column — every Tuesday, we’ll take a question from readers (or the community at large), and provide an answer for you from our unique perspective as an Elegant Stoner. Please note, this advice is just provided by a cannabis expert (not a doctor or psychologist), and meant for entertainment only. You should always listen to a real doctor or psychologist for all of your physical or mental health issues!
Because it’s our first edition here, we don’t have any questions from readers (though if you have a question you want us to answer, definitely send it over!), so for this one we’re going over to Reddit’s r/AskTrees. It’s a subreddit where people can ask questions specifically about cannabis, and this time, we’ve selected a question from a user called ThePlanetFinder:
When getting high, one can feel parched due to the dehydration caused by the THC. Is the extreme hunger (munchies) felt due to a similar reason? As in do you actually need food or sustenance or nutrition? Or is it just the high?
Great question! Before we talk about the munchies and hunger, let’s talk about that parched feeling first. Sometimes when you smoke, your mouth can get dry, and occasionally you can even get a sore throat while smoking. Veteran stoners call this dry mouth or cotton mouth (as if your throat was full of cotton). But cotton mouth isn’t just from “dehydration,” and it’s not even necessarily from the smoke irritating your throat (though that can happen too, separately). Instead, the dryness in your mouth is caused by the THC not taking water out of your system (which would be a more traditional type of dehydration, such as when you sweat a lot, or you get sick and lose a lot of fluids another way, like even vomiting or diarrhea), but instead by the THC messing with your saliva glands.
Normally, your saliva flow is controlled by your body’s nervous system — when you think about eating, for example, or when you’re about to bite into a well-cooked steak, your body increases saliva flow to compensate. When THC interacts with your cannabinoid receptors, it can mix up a lot of those signals. There’s a chemical called anandamide, also called “the bliss molecule,” that can slow down saliva production when it connects with those cannabinoid recepters, and researchers believe that’s what causes dry mouth. In general, it’s harmless — if you happen to have it, you can usually close your mouth and breath through your nose for a while, maybe suck on a piece of candy if you have some around (though be cautious about eating edibles if you’re already high), or, you know, drink water. That’s almost always good for you anyway!
So that’s the “thirsty” part. And as you might guess, the “hungry” part is similarly driven by THC’s interaction with your cannabinoid receptors. The “munchies” are a craving that some people get when they smoke, and it’s a combination of a few things. For one, THC’s interactions with your receptors can enhance your senses, causing you to smell and taste food more strongly, and that might encourage you to eat more. It can also interact with receptors that control dopamine, which can increase pleasure and cause the “yummy” craving that makes people want to munch on snacks and comfort foods. And finally, THC can also interact with the hypothalamus to release hormones that might signal hunger (even if your stomach is technically full).
And there’s one other little trick THC pulls around hunger. Scientists have forced mice to fast for 24 hours, and after that time, they discovered that this increases levels of natural cannabinoids in the brain, which actually causes the same types of reactions: Mice who fasted had an enhanced sense of smell and saw increases in those hunger hormones from the hypothalamus. So there’s a lot going on here: THC’s effect on the cannabinoid receptors can actually mimic the way your body reacts when you are actually starving, resulting in your wanting to eat more.
So the answer to your question is: Yes and no. Yes, THC can react with certain parts of your body that mimic hunger, and can increase hormones that make you want to eat more, or go after your favorite foods. But THC doesn’t actually cause dehydration or hunger, in the sense that you need to eat more when you smoke. It just tells your brain (in different ways) that eating right now would be a great thing to do (and it can also reward you more when you do eat). Thanks for asking the question!
If you’re interested in stopping the munchies, well, we’ve got tips for that too.
And if you’d like to ask a question of The Elegant Stoner, send it to us via email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or drop a note in our contact form. We’ll see you next time!