We’ve all heard of the “Munchies” - the stoner stereotype that puts every cannabis consumer on the couch, scarfing down a box of cookies because of an uncontrollable and insatiable hunger. Well, there may be some truth to that. In this article I explore the science behind cannabis and appetite. I also explain the medical and practical applications of this information for patients, athletes and top-level performers.
Cannabis undoubtedly affects the appetite in most users at some point after consuming. Before understanding this, we first need to understand the endocannabinoid system, and more specifically, the CB1 receptor.
The “endocannabinoid system” is found within mammals and allows our body to naturally produce and receive cannabinoids. The system is involved in a variety of physiological processes including pain-sensation, mood, memory and appetite. It is also involved in voluntary exercise and may be related to the evolution of “runner’s high” in humans.
The CB1 receptor helps maintain homeostasis in a healthy body. Recent studies have shown that CB1 can also stimulate and suppress appetite. When activated by cannabinoids such as THC, CB1 prompts the release of hunger-promoting hormones. These receptors mingle with specific neurons in the brain known as POMC (pro-opiomelancortin) that are located in the hypothalamus. These neurons ultimately control appetite stimulation, as well as other instincts like sexual arousal and alertness. When marijuana is consumed it actually flips the “appetite switch” in the brain.
Physical and mental illnesses, medication, emotions and pregnancy can all result in decreased appetite. Lack of appetite is a common symptom associated with cancer and chemotherapy. Some patients are turning to medical marijuana for relief. THC is known to stimulate the appetite most effectively and abundantly.
CBD is also proven to be beneficial. It is a neuroprotectant and antioxidant that calms the body’s nervous system. This aids those suffering from loss of appetite by slowing down firing signals and calming the digestive tract. CBD has also found to be anti-nausea. Nausea and vomiting can lead to decreased appetite and weight loss. These symptoms can be treated and prevented with high-CBD cannabis strains or extracts.
THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin, is a special cannabinoid that has unique effects on the human appetite. It is similar to THC in molecular structure and psychoactive properties, but offers a variety of different effects. It actually acts as an appetite suppressant. In contrast to THC, THCV seems to dull hunger. This may be good for users focused on weight loss, but should be avoided by those treating anorexia or appetite loss. It may also help with diabetes by regulating blood sugar levels and reducing insulin resistance. This cannabinoid is often only found in trace amounts. THCV offers a unique opportunity for cannabis companies to create “weight loss” products in the future.
The terpene Humulene (also found in hops, sage and ginseng) acts as an appetite suppressant according to some studies. It is also a powerful anti-inflammatory agent and an analgesic. This terpene can commonly be found in strains like Girl Scout Cookies, Headband and White Widow.
Applications for Athletes
Athletes are often under pressure to be at a certain weight for some sports. Mixed martial artists and wrestlers usually have to cut weight for competitions. Other sports like gymnastics, diving, or figure skating have similar weight restrictions. This can be painful and unhealthy in extreme cases. Athletes should ideally not attempt to lose more than 2 pounds per week. Cannabis strains and extracts high in THCV and Humulene can help suppress appetite, which makes it less of a struggle to lose weight. Aesthetic bodybuilders and those trying to lose weight for health reasons may also find benefits in cannabinoids and terpenes.
Competitive contact sports including football, hockey, lacrosse and rugby require athletes to gain weight and muscle. Bigger players will usually have the advantage. This is especially evident in positions like the linebacker and defensive tackle in football.
In the off-season, athletes are usually at the gym several days a week trying to build muscle. This intense training requires a lot of protein, fat and carbohydrates to recover. Athletes must be able to eat large quantities of food several times a day to stay healthy and reach their physical goals. THC and other cannabinoids can help stimulate their appetites and make food more appealing. Cannabis can also assist those that have a suppressed appetite in the morning or immediately after a workout.
During the sports season, athletes are usually working out at the gym, practicing several days a week and playing at a competitive level. This amount of physical exertion requires an appropriate amount of recovery. Cannabis can help athletes eat more during their busy schedules, manage pain and sleep better.
Former NFL player and current Growwise Health ambassador spoke about his experience at a Sports and Cannabis panel by saying “[cannabis] stimulates the appetite, which is another important aspect of recovery and can put you at that mental state where you are at rest”. Athletes are starting to open up about their cannabis use as a performance enhancer and recovery tool. Hopefully national sports leagues will accept it as both a medicine and a supplement in the future.
Cannabis can both stimulate and suppress appetite.
When THC and other cannabinoids reach the CB1 receptor it releases hunger-promoting hormones that causes an increase in appetite.
THCV is an appetite suppressant that dulls hunger. Only found in trace amounts.
The terpene Humulene can also suppress appetite and is anti-inflammatory.
Athletes that need to gain or lose weight can use cannabis to reach their goals more effectively.