“The munchies” are one of the more popular effects of marijuana. A new study shows that humans aren’t the only ones who crave tasty, high-calorie foods after they consume THC. Marijuana gives worms munchies too. Read on to find out more.
Study Showing Marijuana Gives Worms Munchies
A study published in the Journal of Current Biology in April of 2023 shows that nematode worms, also called roundworms, and the most abundant animals on the Earth, have the same reaction to marijuana as humans do. It makes them crave tasty, high-calorie foods.
“Cannabinoids make nematodes hungrier for their favored foods and less hungry for their non-favored foods,” says Shawn Lockery from the University of Oregon in Eugene. “Thus, the effects of marijuana on human appetites.
“Nematodes diverged from the lineage leading to mammals more than 500 million years ago. Remarkably, the effects of cannabinoids on appetite are preserved through this length of evolutionary time.”
Researchers were inspired to conduct the study showing marijuana gives worms munchies in 2015 when cannabis became legal in Oregon.
“At the time, our laboratory at the University of Oregon was deeply involved in assessing nematode food preferences as part of our research on the neuronal basis of economic decision-making,” Lockery explained.
“In almost literally a ‘Friday afternoon experiment’” researchers decided “‘let’s dump this stuff on to see what happens’. We decided to see if soaking worms in cannabinoids alters existing food preferences. It does, and the paper is the result of many years of follow-up research”.
Marijuana Gives Worms Munchies: It’s All About the Endocannabinoid System
So why is it that marijuana gives worms munchies? According to researchers, it all comes down to the endocannabinoid system.
Cannabis’s symptoms occur when the drug interacts with the endocannabinoid system.
The endocannabinoid system is located throughout the body. Its receptors can be found in the brain, connective tissues, glands, organs, and immune cells. It is responsible for emotions, memory, appetite, and other bodily functions.
When a person consumes cannabis, it interacts with the cannabis receptors in the endocannabinoid system and produces various telltale effects. The study revealed that a worm’s endocannabinoid system is similar to humans and yields similar results. Researchers wondered if the worms experienced other symptoms that humans experience when they consume marijuana.
Marijuana Gives Worms Munchies: Further Studies
Researchers that conducted the study revealing marijuana gives worms munchies took it a step further. Part II of their research involved replacing the C. elegans cannabinoid receptor in the worms with a human cannabinoid receptor. They found that worms responded normally to cannabis.
The new research further established the similarities between the ECS system in worms and humans. It also shows that the effects of anandamide, a lipid mediator responsible for the pharmacological effects of marijuana, work closely with the neurons responsible for food detection.
“We found that the sensitivity of one of the main food-detecting olfactory neurons in C. elegans is dramatically altered by cannabinoids,” Lockery said. “Upon cannabinoid exposure, it becomes more sensitive to favored food odors and less sensitive to non-favored food odors. This effect helps explain changes in the worm’s consumption of food, and it is reminiscent of how THC makes tasty food even tastier to humans.”
Practical Implications of the Study on Marijuana Gives Worms Munches
The study showing marijuana gives worms munchies is amusing. But it has practical implications as well.
“Cannabinoid signaling is present in the majority of tissues in our body. It therefore could be involved in the cause and treatment of a wide range of diseases. The fact that the human cannabinoid receptor gene is functional in C. elegans food-choice experiments sets the stage for rapid and inexpensive screening for drugs that target a wide variety of proteins involved in cannabinoid signaling and metabolism with profound implications for human health,” Lockery stated.
The researchers involved in the ‘marijuana gives worms munchies’ study are also investigating how cannabinoids change the sensitivity of C. elegans olfactory neurons that don’t have cannabinoid receptors. They also want to learn how psychedelics affect nematodes.
“Perhaps we can find a new set of similarities between humans and worms, now in the case of drugs that alter perception and psychological well-being,” Lockery stated.
About Humans and the Munchies
We know that marijuana gives humans the munchies based on how it interacts with cannabis receptors. But let’s take a closer look at what happens inside the body to stimulate hunger after consuming marijuana.
When THC enters the body, it interacts with cannabinoid receptors that regulate emotion, pain, mood, appetite, and more. It also promotes the release of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates hunger.
One study showed that cannabis binds to receptors in the brain’s olfactory bulb and increases our sensitivity to smell. The effect makes food aromas stronger which also causes us to want to eat more.
Research also shows that neurons that usually turn off when eating become stimulated when marijuana is used. It usurps satiety so we eat more.
THC also increases the release of dopamine and enhances the pleasure of eating. The boosted dopamine also affects the brain’s reward and pleasure centers. It lowers inhibitions so we eat more unhealthy foods.
Overweight People at High Risk
THC stimulates the appetite and makes people crave unhealthy foods. Research shows overweight people have a bigger reaction than people at a healthy weight.
“In obese people… it will activate their dopamine system to a bigger degree than on-obese individuals, “says Gary Wenk, director of neuroscience undergraduate programs at the Ohio State University and author of “Your Brain on Food”. “These individuals might be primed to have a bigger munchie response.”
Ginger Hultin, a registered dietitian and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, followed up by stating, “People will say they’ll use marijuana to relax… but it will spike their appetite for chips and ice cream… and unhealthy foods they want to be avoiding. These people can link their weight struggles to their use of marijuana.”
Marijuana edibles are a double-edged sword for people who wish to control their weight. In addition to stimulating munchies, they are also often packed with sugar and calories that contribute to unhealthy blood sugar levels and weight gain.