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Why do we get the munchies? 

click to enlarge Scientists found that, in mice, THC enters the receptors of the brain's olfactory bulb, greatly increasing their ability to smell and taste food. - YOUNG KWAK
  • Young Kwak
  • Scientists found that, in mice, THC enters the receptors of the brain's olfactory bulb, greatly increasing their ability to smell and taste food.

It happens to all of us. A handful of tokes and we turn into our own worst enemy, stocking the pantry and refrigerator to fill the call of the id once red and bleary eyed.

Half the time it's an excuse not to indulge, where you have to explain you don't like the gluttonous monster you turn into if you simply puff on a joint. But what is the science behind the munchies that derailed Scooby and Shaggy from solving the case or makes me feel like an up-and-coming fusion chef with the haphazard condiment mixing that I conduct in my kitchen at 1 am?

In a study published in Nature Neuroscience, scientists found that in mice, THC would enter the receptors of the brain's olfactory bulb, greatly increasing their ability to smell and taste food, thus eating more of it. THC also unlocks receptors in the nucleus accumbens, which release the pleasure neurotransmitter dopamine. So not only are users' experiencing an elevation in taste and smell, but they are also experiencing euphoria.

Further research has shown that the effect on other receptors related directly to the gut could hold new potential in how we can control our appetites moving forward. Washington State University's Jon Davis, assistant professor in integrative physiology and neuroscience, has begun to unlock the potential of THC not only promoting appetite but also suppressing it.

"We discovered that when you do weight-loss surgery or bypass surgery on people, someone who previously never drank alcohol [may] turn into an alcoholic," Davis tells Leafly. "It actually clued me in to this very powerful communication between the gut and the brain."

That major discovery comes in the relationship between glutamate, a neurotransmitter that primarily affects feeding, and ghrelin, a hormone found in the stomach. It's the activity of glutamate bonding with THC that can increase the amount of food we eat when we experience the munchies. But without that glutamate activity, the ghrelin levels actually promote a suppression of appetite.

The suppression appears to be the counterbalance that our body and the plant naturally display. And major breakthroughs can occur once we learn how to control the balance between THC, our gut hormones and the transmitters that communicate between the two. ♦

The original print version of this article was headlined "Hungry for Knowledge"

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