California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s surprise admission to reporters last week that he thinks it’s time for his state to debate the legalization of marijuana for adults naturally brings up the food-related question “Why does pot give you the munchies?” Or, at least the association seemed to come naturally for the San Francisco Chronicle, which linked to a 2003 Straight Dope column that solves the mystery.
Many think that pot causes fluctuations in blood sugar, which in turn causes hunger, but this was ruled out decades ago. Instead, the active ingredient in marijuana, THC, mimics a cannabinoid made naturally by your body, and plays nice with the body’s own cannabinoid receptors. Said receptors are particularly numerous in the brain’s hypothalamus, the area most strongly associated with appetite regulation. You smoke pot, the cannabis tickles your hypothalamus, you think, “Hmm, I wonder what’s in the pantry?” and 20,000 calories later you wake up on your kitchen floor surrounded by cupcake wrappers.
Scientists have also found that blocking the body’s cannabinoid receptors can decrease appetite, leading to weight loss. Accordingly, the cannabinoid-receptor-blocking drug Acomplia is now available on the European market. It seems to work, but nobody knows what kind of side effects will eventually come up.