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Can Medical Marijuana Influence Your Appetite? 

Medical marijuana is well known for influencing appetite thanks to its reputation for inducing the urge to snack — but that’s not all there is to it. In certain cases, medical marijuana can actually suppress your appetite. Get to know more about how medical marijuana plays a role in affecting your appetite and how to know what to expect.

What influences appetite?

Before we get into how medical marijuana influences appetite, it’s important to understand the role that certain hormones play in stimulating or suppressing the desire to eat.

One of the primary hormones responsible for causing feelings of hunger is called ghrelin. This brain-gut peptide circulates throughout your body, releasing growth hormones and regulating appetite. When your stomach is empty, ghrelin is released and signals to your brain that it’s time to eat. Ghrelin also plays a role in endocannabinoid production — we’ll explore that a bit later.

Appetite is driven by more than just ghrelin production, though. Neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin can influence appetite as well. Low levels of dopamine in your brain can signal hunger and the need to eat, while high levels of dopamine can lead to feelings of satiety that curb appetite. Serotonin, which is primarily produced in the gut, similarly suppresses appetite.

Can medical marijuana suppress your appetite?

When you think of medical marijuana and appetite, you probably associate it with an increased appetite. However, certain phytocannabinoids may have the opposite effect.

For example, Cannabidiol (CBD) is thought to influence dopamine receptors, potentially reducing cravings for food in consumers who find themselves compulsively snacking or eating. Similarly, researchers know CBD influences serotonin 1A receptors, offering a range of therapeutic benefits that include mitigation of nausea and vomiting.

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), a precursor of delta-9 THC, is another such phytocannabinoid that has been observed to have a satiating effect. Animal studies have shown THCV to be potentially effective at decreasing appetite, increasing feelings of fullness, and up-regulating energy metabolism. Researchers have identified the compound as a potential tool in helping to manage obesity and type 2 diabetes. However, additional research is needed to see how THCV affects appetite in humans.

THCV is not an abundant phytocannabinoid. It only appears in trace amounts in most medical marijuana flower, making its appetite-suppressing effects unlikely to outweigh the much more prominent (and appetite-stimulating) delta-9 THC. Durban Poison is an example of a cultivar high in THCV, at an average of around 1% THCV content. THCV distillate, which contains up to 99% pure THCV, is available in some dispensaries if you’re interested in testing out its appetite-suppressing potential.

What we know about medical marijuana as an appetite stimulant

You may feel hungry after consuming medical marijuana because of the way phytocannabinoids interplay with ghrelin and neurotransmitters, and how those substances in turn interact with your body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS).

Centuries of anecdotal evidence about medical marijuana suggests that it increases appetite, but researchers are only recently uncovering exactly which cannabinoids are responsible for this appetite-stimulating effect and precisely how they work. While many of the studies are animal-based, the existing body of evidence is enough for researchers to surmise a few things about how medical marijuana works to affect hunger and appetite, even though most agree that more human studies are needed.

Phytocannabinoids and ghrelin

Knowing that ghrelin production is key to appetite stimulation and that endocannabinoids play a role in boosting ghrelin, researchers observed the effects of medical marijuana vapor on appetite in a 2008 study. During that study, researchers determined that ghrelin’s appetite stimulation properties were mediated through the ECS’s CB1 receptor. Ghrelin is also believed to affect taste, so if your food seemed particularly delicious after a medical marijuana session, that may be the reason why.

The endocannabinoids anandamide and 2-Arachidonoylglycerol (2-AG) play a role in regulating appetite and the production of ghrelin via the endogenous cannabinoid system (ECS). Researchers have determined this is because both endocannabinoids activate the CB1 receptor in the ECS. These receptors are clustered in the central nervous system and relate to CNS-governed functions, including appetite regulation. When the CB1 receptor is activated, ghrelin is released and signals to the brain that we feel hungry.

Phytocannabinoids and neurotransmitters

Certain types of THC have also been shown to influence levels of dopamine, serotonin, and another neurotransmitter called norepinephrine, which can prompt hunger at low doses. However, THC can have very different effects at low amounts compared to high amounts presenting researchers with the challenge of how to best control its appetite-altering properties.

Yes, medical marijuana can curb your appetite

The medical marijuana product you choose can affect your appetite in various ways. If you want to avoid the hunger that delta-9 THC induces, for example, look for cultivars and products with elevated THCV content. It may help curb your appetite after a session.

At Ethos, our associates and pharmacists can help you understand your options, how each medical marijuana product works to increase appetite or how it may suppress your appetite, and what to expect when trying medical marijuana to support your goals. And if you’re curious about what else you may experience during a session, check out our guide on what to expect when consuming medical marijuana.

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