Study examines science behind why marijuana causes 'the munchies'

THC-dosed mice have increased appetite, smell

DENVER - It comes as no surprise for pot users that THC triggers "the munchies."

"I've got the munchies right now -- Pretzels!" joked Thomas Behler, an assistant manager at Ganja Gourmet as he grabbed a giant container filled with pretzels.

But a new study published Monday in Nature Neuroscience examines the science behind why the active ingredient in marijuana may give people the munchies. 

A team of European neuroscientists found that, in mice, THC can increase the ability to smell food and cause them to eat more of it.  The chemical also mimics the sensation of being food-deprived.

"People are interested in the mechanisms that drive hunger and food intake, and that's obviously important for obesity and other issues," said CU Neuroscience Professor Kent Hutchison, who has studied the affects of marijuana on mood in the past. "So they're not really interested in the munchies, per se, but more the big picture."

Hutchison said this is just one piece of the puzzle, pointing out that some strains of cannabis increases appetite more than others.

"In this paper they focus on the THC, but with people it's clearly more than just the THC having an effect," said Hutchison. "We really need to find a way to move forward in Colorado in terms of research at the human level."

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