Yale researchers discover what causes the marijuana munchies

Yale researchers discover what causes the marijuana munchies
Yale researchers discover what causes the marijuana munchies

Most people that have used marijuana have experienced the phenomenon of almost uncontrollable hunger brought on by smoking pot known as the munchies. Tamas Horvath, director of the Yale University Program in Cell Signaling and Neurobiology of Metabolism, and colleagues have defined the chemical process in the brain that causes the munchies.

The scientists found that the use of cannabis changes the function of neurons that normally suppress appetite into ravenous beasts. Marijuana causes the neurons that are responsible for shutting down the desire to eat into cells that stimulate hunger at least for a short period of time. Eventually, the effect of the cannabis wears off and the hunger preventing cells return to their normal chemistry and function.

A possible explanation for the response is that some chemical in cannabis shuts down the function of the nerve cells called proopiomelanocortin neurons that are normally responsible for stopping the desire to eat, also known as hunger, when an individual is full. The researchers also suggest that the new neural pathway may be a part of the mechanism that gets people high with marijuana. The study was done with mice that had the neurons that stimulate hunger and stop hunger genetically turned off.

There is more research planned to investigate the effects of these two types of neurons on humans. The expected effect is the same as in mice. There have been no known surges in the consumption of food of any kind in states in the United States that have legalized or liberalized the use of marijuana by humans.

Practical applications of the research could lead to a way to stop the “high” produced by marijuana if indeed the eating neuron pathway is a part of the high. The study also provides insight into control of overeating and obesity in people. Marijuana might end up being the “cure” for the obesity epidemic as soon as Horvath and company learn how to get rid of the munchies.


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