Why Does Medical Marijuana Stimulate Appetite?Written by Chris Weatherall on Dec 28, 2017
Patients who consume or smoke medical marijuana products often experience an increase in appetite and appreciation for food. No, it’s not in your head: It’s an established side effect of cannabis.
But why does this happen? Neuroscientists asked the same question, and found an answer deep in the brain’s circuits.
How THC Works in the Brain
Marijuana’s active ingredient is tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. When THC reaches the brain, it attaches to groups of cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are in charge of coordination, learning, problem solving and short-term memory, among other processes. The neurotransmitter anandamide normally activates these receptors. When THC enters the brain, it mimics the actions of anandamide, binding with cannabinoid receptors and causing marijuana’s effects.
THC binding to receptors in the brain can have a wide range of effects, from promoting creativity to causing feelings of anxiety. The effects depend on the dose and type of product (such as edibles, vapes, buds, etc.).
Correct dosage is important, as different amounts of THC can have different effects. THC has a biphasic effect, meaning high and low doses can create opposite effects. This is why many people report feeling relaxed after taking low doses of cannabis, but paranoid with high doses.
One thing that almost all users experience is an increase in appetite. This virtually universal effect is also a result of THC, but for years, the phenomenon puzzled scientists. Recent research has brought us a step closer to understanding how it works. The answer has to do with how THC affects smell, taste and the hormone that stimulates hunger.
THC and the Brain’s Olfactory Bulb
In 2014, Nature Neuroscience published a study that was one of the first steps to cracking the code on cannabis and appetite. The study came from a team of European scientists, led by Giovanni Marsicano, at the University of Bordeaux. The study used mice as test subjects due to the similarities between their brains and human brains. When injected with THC, the mice’s ability to smell food significantly increased. This showed that THC fits into the brain’s olfactory bulb receptors – the receptors in charge of taste and smell.
During the tests, the mice without THC were at first interested in the scented oils, but eventually lost interest as they became used to the smell. The mice with THC in their systems continued to sniff the oils, signaling increased sensitivity to the smell. Further tests concluded that the THC did in fact latch on to the brain’s olfactory bulb, increasing sensitivity to smell and most likely taste as well (the mice with THC also ate much more than the other mice).
If the study of mice is an accurate model for humans, it’s reasonable to assert that one of the ways in which marijuana increases appetite is by making food smell and taste better than usual. The close connection between smell and taste points to the logical conclusion that THC in the olfactory bulb enables users to taste flavors better as well.
THC Tricks the Brain into Thinking It’s Hungry
Previous research has already established that marijuana acts on the brain’s receptors that are in charge of pleasure – thus creating the feelings of euphoria or “high” users experience. Marijuana does this by triggering a release of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.
Other research has noted that THC also interacts with receptors in the hypothalamus of the brain – possibly releasing the hormone ghrelin, which is in charge of stimulating hunger.
By manipulating this pathway and the olfactory bulb simultaneously, THC can “trick” the brain into thinking it’s hungry. It does this by mimicking the sensations the brain and body feel when hungry, through manipulation of the proopiomelanocortin (POMC).
The POMC refers to the neurons in the hypothalamus that tell the body when it’s full. Scientists in a 2015 study led by Tamas Horvath of Yale discovered that not only did THC fail to turn off the POMC, it actually flipped its function.
Under the influence of THC, the POMC does not tell the body that it’s full, but rather that it’s hungry. Therefore, the body experiences all the same feelings of hunger, along with an enhanced sense of smell and taste. It’s no wonder marijuana creates the perfect storm for stimulating appetite.
Using Medical Marijuana to Stimulate Appetite on Purpose
Marijuana’s propensity for stimulating appetite is more than just a side effect: It can be the reason you acquire medical marijuana. Keeping the appetite high with marijuana is a great way to make sure nutrition doesn’t suffer during an illness. Cancer patients, for example, benefit from the active ingredient in marijuana because it improves sense of taste and increases appetite.
In one study, 73 percent of cancer patients who were administered THC pills showed an increase in food appreciation, compared to 30 percent of patients who were given placebos. Sixty-four percent reported increased appetite.
The hunger effect can do wonders in helping cancer patients enjoy their meals, especially following chemotherapy treatments. A healthy appetite can enhance nutrition and combat weight loss, which is a common problem for cancer patients.
Related Reading: Medical Marijuana Resources and Education
Where to Buy Medical Marijuana for Increased Appetite
If you’re interested in purchasing medical marijuana products with the main goal of increasing your appetite and appreciation for food, ask the staff at Kind Meds for help. Our Arizona dispensary staff will listen to all of your concerns and questions about symptoms and side effects of taking cannabis. We can then help you dial in on the exact right medication to help you stimulate your appetite, so long as you have a valid Arizona state medical card.
Different cannabis strains and doses can impact how the THC binds with the brain’s receptors. As an experienced medical marijuana dispensary in AZ, our experts understand this. They know exactly which medications to recommend for appetite stimulation.
Kind Meds always offers the highest quality medical marijuana, as well as a holistic approach to cannabis-based medications. Let our knowledgeable and professional staff assist you with your unique needs.