“Please help me to NOT get the munchies!”

This is the rallying cry from many of the patients that doctors and cannabis educators speak with at Natural Health Services. Unfortunately for some, the ‘munchies’ aren’t necessarily one of the erroneous myths around cannabis. Appetite stimulation does have its place, and certain strains have been known to bring it on. Not all do though, and some terpene/cannabinoid profiles may even decrease appetite.

To this end, cannabis is a tool to be used mindfully and intentionally. A little research will alert you to strains that typically will increase or decrease appetite. Check sites like Leafly.ca and Lift.co where you can enter your search term and be rewarded with applicable strains names. Your Licensed Producer’s website and/or LP’s customer service reps may be able to help you depending on what they have in stock.

Note:  The terpene ‘Humulene’ and the cannabinoid ‘THC-V’ are reputed to decrease appetite and are included in this particular profile. Health Canada does not mandate that levels of anything other than THC and CBD be noted. However, many licensed producers are recognizing and responding to patients’ preference for further terpene and cannabinoid profiles. We are becoming a sophisticated user base, Canada!

So just how does cannabis fuel the urge to eat or not to eat. That is the question.  

Endocannabinoids, chemical compounds that the body produces, are intrinsic to the body’s regulatory responses…from stress, to pain, to appetite to digestion to metabolism. We know that the phytocannabinoids in the cannabis plant mimic our own naturally produced endocannabinoids with similar effects.

Dr. Keith Sharkey, PhD, from the University of Calgary explains, “Endocannabinoids regulate how quickly food moves through the intestines. They also help to digest food.” While “THC stimulates the appetite centers in the brain. The impulse is driven by the cannabinoid system, which controls behavioral triggers in the brain related to eating.”

In essence, when we ingest THC, receptors in our brains trigger the release of hormones that can, with certain strains, increase our hunger. Add to that the pleasure-enhancing qualities of THC which can make food taste exceptional, (read: ‘This is THE best <insert food choice here> I’ve ever eaten! I think I’ll have another!!’), and you may be eating more than you would like (in hindsight!). Again, this is often strain dependent and, as always, not all individuals will react the same. Personally, I have only come across a couple of strains that make me unusually hungry (this could be due to my preference for more Sativa labeled strains, as well as adding CBD to whatever I am ingesting. Many strains I’ve used do seem to act as pleasure enhancers however!)

There are at least two different ‘sources’ of appetite. Homeostatic feeding is eating because your energy stores are reduced. This is signalled, at least partially, through your cannabinoid receptors in your gut, and through their regular gut/brain connection they let you brain know. But Dr. Sharkey explains, “There’s another type of eating called hedonic or pleasurable eating. When you don’t need to eat that much, but you do.”  It may come as no surprise that THC can work on both the homeostatic and hedonic systems.

In case you are considering taking cannabis and the munchies off the table, you should know that many studies show regular users of cannabis tend to be thinner. Many theories exist around why this may be. Including: It’s possible that cannabis users are out enjoying life more, they may dance to the muzak in the grocery store, they may be in less pain and better able to enjoy a more active lifestyle. Or, cannabis users may be more mindful around tasting and chewing their food, which helps with digestion and assimilation. Or, the weight causing stress hormone, cortisol, may not be released to the same degree. After all, stress and the resulting cortisol release may cause your body to hoard fat and burn fewer calories. Often cannabis, especially with CBD may be stress relieving. Or, it may be cannabis’ potential to help you tune into your body more during exercise, thereby helping to achieve the desired effect. Or, certain uplifting strains of cannabis, say, with a limonene terpene profile, may produce a feeling of being uplifted and energized, allowing you to be more active. Or, regular cannabis use has been associated with better blood sugar regulation. Or, cannabis’ ability to help with sleep provides more energy the next day. Or that the cannabinoid THC-V, or the terpene humulene can be appetite suppressants. It’s exciting that none of these are mutually exclusive. Cannabis, when ingested mindfully and intentionally has been anecdotally shown to have all of these effects.

In terms of obesity and metabolic syndrome, the animal model evidence is equally hopeful.

Dr. Sharkey’s lab did a month long study in which mice were given THC and then fed a high fat diet.  The result? Their gut bacteria was altered and they lost weight. Dr. Sharkey explains, “People who are obese have different gut bacteria than people who are lean. We see the same in mice. We can reproduce this readily. Animals who were treated with THC, who lost weight, ended up with normal healthy gut bacteria. Cannabis is not a weight loss agent, but what it does to the metabolism is fascinating. It may explain why cannabis users are not as obese or why they are thinner than the regular population.”

In said study, the THC did not have any effect on the size of mice who were already a regular weight, contributing to the notion of cannabis’ part in maintaining homeostasis, but it did cause the obese mice to lose weight. The theory being that THC causes changes in the gut microbiome of the obese, that helps regulate weight loss and digestion.

How THC might normalize gut bacteria is not yet understood. But many studies have produced the same result, independent of factors like age and gender.

From personal experience I can tell you that being of relatively normal weight, I may keep it that way by making sure that as general habits, I:

  • balance my THC intake  with cortisol/stress relieving CBD.
  • Access limonene rich strains. For me, this terpene works as an energy enhancer during the day as well as a mild antidepressant, which keeps emotional eating at bay!
  • continue to look for strains with more THC-V and humulene, and encourage my licensed producers to include this information on their website.

I encourage you to keep a journal and discover what works for you!

If you’d like a little more information on this topic please visit our previous Cannabis and Appetite blog post!

Bon appetit!


— Kait Shane, Community Outreach Educator Natural Health Services. Follow Natural Health Services on Twitter @NatHealthserve.

For further insight into all things cannabis, don’t forget to check out The Cannabis Show (new episodes every Wednesday) and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. The Cannabis Show is also available as an audio podcast, subscribe on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, and Overcast.

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