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More Than Munchies: Can Cannabis Suppress Your Appetite?

It’s no secret that cannabis and appetite are linked — after all, “the munchies” is probably the most common experience linked to consumption. But there is more to the relationship between cannabis and appetite than prompting a post-session trip to the snack cabinet. In certain cases, cannabis can actually suppress your appetite. Get to know how cannabis plays a role in regulating your appetite in both directions.

What influences appetite?

Before we get into how cannabis 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 cannabis suppress your appetite?

When you think of cannabis and appetite, you probably associate it with an urge to snack. 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 vomiting1.

Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), a precursor of delta-9 THC, is another such phytocannabinoid that has been observed to have a satiating effect2. 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 cannabis 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 THCV3, 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 cannabis as an appetite stimulant

Have you ever wondered why your stomach rumbles after your cannabis session, even if you’ve already had a full meal? That’s due to 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 cannabis 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 cannabis works to affect hunger and appetite.

Phytocannabinoids and ghrelin

Knowing that ghrelin production is key to appetite stimulation and that endocannabinoids play a role in boosting ghrelin4, researchers observed the effects of cannabis 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 cannabis 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

THC has also been shown to influence levels of dopamine, serotonin, and another neurotransmitter called norepinephrine5, which can prompt hunger at low doses. However, THC can have very different effects at low doses versus high doses, presenting researchers with the challenge of how to best control its appetite-altering properties.

Yes, cannabis can curb your appetite

Do you enjoy a late-night snack after consuming cannabis, or do you want to finish your session without heading to the fridge? The cannabis product you choose shapes that outcome. If you want to avoid the hunger that delta-9 THC induces, 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 cannabis product works to increase appetite or how it may suppress your appetite, and what to expect when trying cannabis 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 cannabis.

Sources:

  1. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0091305711000128
  2. https://jcannabisresearch.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s42238-020-0016-7#:~:text=The%20main%20advantage%20of%20THCV,and%20type%202%20diabetic%20patients
  3. https://weedmaps.com/news/2020/01/high-thcv-strains-you-should-know-about/#:~:text=With%20a%20naturally%20occurring%20THCV,effects%20of%20a%20pure%20sativa
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2258435/%23pone.0001797-Xue1&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1637250436857000&usg=AOvVaw2iQbJ8gveW2fNrwE2_zL5g
  5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15099912/

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