Why and how does cannabis cause “the munchies? “

Why and how does cannabis cause “the munchies? “
Max Sargent

The "cannabis" munchies are a strange but well known phenomenon of smoking cannabis. Why does THC cause users to want to eat, even when full?

It is one of the best known stereotypes about smoking cannabis. It gives you the “Munchies.” But it’s not just any old food you crave. It is usually high-fat, high-sugar junk food.

Why is this the case?

New research into this effect is not only providing answers. It is also leading to more understanding of cannabis' affects the brain’s circuitry. A new report in Nature also seems to shed new light on the question. The new findings? The “munchies” are a result of cannabinoids on the brain itself.[1]


Cannabinoids are clearly capable of changing brain perception. This also leads to changes in behaviour.

It also seems to act like a metabolic “switch.” In turn, that leads to not only improved mood and pain relief.

However, cannabis can also trigger the feeding impulse – even when they are full. Not only that, the brain also seems to think that the body is “starving.” That explains why stoned people can eat so much. It also helps explain why they gravitate to higher fat and sugar foods. The brain tells the body it needs energy. Cravings for the most calorie dense kinds of food are the result.

According to this research, cannabinoids impact the hypothalamus. Activation of neurons in then creates a “hunger” reflex. This happens even if the stomach is full.

The research team behind the Nature report also found evidence of something else. This concept was tested on surgically altered mice. The mice brains where these neurons had been incapacitated did not stimulate the gorge reflex. Non-altered mice however began to gorge themselves on food. Even when they were full.

This leads of course to the ultimate question at hand. How can cannabinoids switch body functions off and on – starting with the hunger reflex?

The answer now? Nobody knows.


There is other research now adding to this larger theory. It also seems that ingesting cannabis also stimulates olfactory senses. In other words, when you are stoned, food also seems to smell better – also stimulating appetite.[2]

This line of research is not only going to help people understand appetite stimulation better. It may also lead to weight control drugs. However, because metabolism, hunger and mood are all stimulated along similar circuitry, merely “turning off” central cannabinoid receptors can have strange if not dangerous consequences.

Early research on cannabinoids to control appetite ended badly at the beginning of this decade. Seven years later, new research shows that this is still a valid field of interest. Stimulating peripheral receptors that do not cross the blood-brain barrier might hold the key to appetite controlling drugs.


The impact of the munchies, however, is a still a strange phenomenon. It is only seen in people who use cannabis occasionally and recreationally. It does not act the same way on people who use the drug medicinally. At least in the long term. Longer term use of cannabis tends to make “The Munchies” dissipate. Why this is, or when this happens still has an unknown cause.

That said, just this question is opening up new fields of inquiry in cannabis research.

Stay tuned.


  1. ^ Nature, Hypothalamic POMC neurons promotecannabinoid induced feeding, retrieved November-08-2018
  2. ^ Munchies Vice, Science Says Weed Makes Food Taste and Smell Better, retrieved November-08-2018

Max Sargent
Max Sargent

Max has been writing about cannabis and psychedelics for several years now. With a strong belief that an open, honest attitude toward drugs and drug policy can improve the lives of many, he seeks to offer insightful and developed opinions on the subject.