Research published today in Nature proposes a cellular mechanism by which the munchies work. The author found a strange and seemingly contradictory result: THC stimulates appetite by regulating a group of neurons that normally suppresses appetite.
The munchies have always been a paradox. Elusive but ever-present, you never know when they are going to hit, or how. They either make you eat anything, or give you a craving so specific you’d rather starve than eat anything that’s not what you have your mind on.
THC’s appetite stimulating properties has brought it to use for patients with AIDS, cancer and even anorexia. While clinical studies show THC helps stimulate appetite, some research has conversely found that cannabis users are generally slimmer than the average non-user.
Much like with studies involving the endocannabinoid system, which was discovered after THC was first isolated, this study was actually focused on finding out more about appetite control in the brain. The scientists just used the cannabinoid as a tool to study a specific region in the brain.
The paper, Hypothalamic POMC neurons Promote Cannabinoid-Induced Feeding, found that cannabinoids activate a subset of the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) neurons, a region of the hypothalamus that normally inhibits hunger. Cannabinoids make POMC neurons release an appetite-stimulating hormone, but inhibit the release of an appetite suppressive hormone in a way that is still not well understood.
This strange mechanism pot has regarding hunger may explain some of the paradoxes surrounded this effect, like the finding that pot smokers generally have a lower BMI and are less at risk for diabetes.