Cannabis and Appetite: How Different Compounds Cause or Suppress Hunger

Cannabis, French Fries, and Tots
Photo by: Doug Shutter/Shutterstock

Have you ever felt the "munchies" after consuming cannabis? Have certain food cravings felt more enhanced after toking? Whether you are a medical cannabis patient or a recreational cannabis user, you’ve probably felt this strange effect of cannabis and appetite at least once before. Some people do not enjoy getting the munchies, especially if they’re trying to watch their weight, yet others who are going through chemotherapy or those who have certain eating disorders may view the munchies as more of a benefit than something to avoid.

After using cannabis, getting the munchies is common, especially because certain cannabinoids within the cannabis plant act as appetite stimulants. However, there are other cannabinoids and terpenes that act as appetite suppressants. Read on to find out the role of cannabis with appetite, which cannabinoids and terpenes are known to cause hunger, and which ones are known to suppress hunger.

The Role Cannabinoids Play in Hunger Regulation

All human bodies have an endocannabinoid system (ECS), which regulates different processes such as energy intake, nutrient transport, and metabolism storage. Similarly, endocannabinoid system activity that occurs in the central nervous system may help to regulate food intake and, overall, the ECS plays a significant role in appetite stimulation. This is a key point when it comes to cannabis and appetite. 

Whenever a person feels hungry, the endocannabinoid system is helping to send signals to the brain's hypothalamus. This allows the limbic system (an area of the brain that broadly controls emotion) to help send signals directing individuals to get some food.

Cannabinoids are a diverse set of chemical compounds whose job it is to provide a two-way communication channel between certain receptors within the body's ECS. There are three types of cannabinoids:

  • Endocannabinoids
  • Phyto-cannabinoids
  • Synthetic cannabinoids.

According to an article by Medical Jane, endocannabinoids are found within the body, whereas phyto-cannabinoids are found within the cannabis plant. Synthetic cannabinoids are created in a lab for mostly testing and researching purposes.

Out of all these cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the most popular, followed by cannabidiol (CBD).

Hunger-Related Signals and Reasons for Them 

There are two main cannabinoid receptors in the human body ? CB1 and CB2 ? which are found in the brain, intestines, and immune system. When a cannabinoid receptor is stimulated by an endocannabinoid, various psychological functions are activated within the body.

These functions are engaged in day-to-day behaviors and body responses. These include: 

  • Memory
  • Pain
  • Sensation
  • Mood
  • Appetite

One effect the cannabinoids found in cannabis have on appetite is to slow down the process of gastrointestinal emptying and transit. As a result of this, ghrelin production is stimulated. Ghrelin is a hormone that increases appetite and food intake.

After consuming food, the brain is sent signals via the hormone leptin from the small intestine. These signals reduce activity in the ECS and let the body know that the individual has had enough food to eat. But, as mentioned above, the numerous cannabinoids found in cannabis affect appetite (both increasing and decreasing it).

Cannabinoids That Stimulate Appetite: THC and CBG 

For centuries, there has been a unique relationship between cannabis and appetite, especially when certain cannabinoids are consumed. There have been multiple reports on cannabis and appetite and how the use of cannabis helps to promote strong food cravings. According to the National Institute of Health, appetite-stimulating effects “result from the actions of cannabinoid molecules at specific cannabinoid receptor sites within the brain.”

These effects reflect the physiological role of the body's natural ligands and the endocannabinoids responsible for the control of appetite. For years, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has been known to act as an appetite stimulant. Individuals who go through chemotherapy and experience a loss of appetite have swayed towards consuming cannabis strains high in THC as a result.

Additionally, individuals who suffer from eating disorders like anorexia or who are taking prescription medications that cause a loss of appetite may benefit from THC consumption.  Recently, another cannabinoid named cannabigerol (CBG) has sparked a lively conversation regarding its appetite-stimulating properties.

So far, CBG has been credited with stimulating appetites in addition to being non-psychoactive. Additionally, research has shown CBG as helpful in reducing inflammation and inhibiting the growth of bacteria or the replication of tumorous cells, according to research published June 2017.

Cannabinoids That Suppress Appetite: CBD and THCV 

Although many cannabis strains and cannabinoids act as appetite stimulants, there are other cannabis strains, cannabinoids, and terpenes that act as appetite suppressants. According to a study published by the National Institute of Health, it was found that cannabidiol (CBD) may make users less hungry. Additional research studies have found that adding CBD to THC reduces the appetite-stimulating effects of the cannabinoid. These findings indicate that products like CBD cannabis oil could act better as suppressant appetite made of cannabis as compared to other cannabinoids.

Besides CBD, a cannabinoid called tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) has been found to contain appetite-suppressant properties. THCV is only produced in extremely small quantities within the cannabis plant, and it can be difficult and expensive to cultivate this cannabinoid, according to High Times.

Through rodent research, it has been noted that THCV could be beneficial for people looking to manage their weight. 

Also, THCV could potentially provide users with a fast-paced and energetic cannabis experience. An additional animal study of THCV was conducted by the International Association for Cannabis as Medicine. In the study, mice that were treated with the purified THCV substance spent less time at their food bowls, and they ate less than the other mice. This finding suggests that THCV may contain substantial appetite-suppressing effects.  

Furthermore, High Times has stated that THCV in its purest form can overpower the irrational urge to overeat while also reducing hunger cravings. Thus far, THCV has been shown to be an antagonist of the body's CB1 and CB2 receptors. This means that THCV blocks THC, which prevents users from getting the munchies. Not only does THCV act as an appetite suppressant, but this cannabinoid has a high potency, which leads to fast-acting effects rather than long-lasting effects. Although THCV is psychoactive, it causes more of a psychedelic and clear-headed effect.

Humulene: An Appetite-Suppressing Terpene 

Empty Plate
Photo by: Studio Africa/Shutterstock
Besides CBD and THCV acting as appetite suppressants, a terpene found in cannabis affecting appetite called humulene contains its own appetite-suppressant properties. So far, humulene shows promise for weight-loss treatments and helping individuals manage food cravings. Aside from this terpene's appetite-suppressing properties, it is also a powerful anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, and anti-pain compound. Not only can humulene relieve and reduce pain, but it can also help people control what they eat, which controls their weight as a result.

Although humulene is found in cannabis sativa strains, there are other sources of this terpene, including such as hops, common sage, Japanese spicebush, spearmint, ginger, and Chinese laurel tree. So if you are interested in consuming a natural substance that contains appetite-suppressant properties, humulene could be the terpene to try.

Consuming the Right Cannabinoids/Terpenes

Despite certain cannabis compounds that boost people's appetites, there are several organic compounds (known as cannabinoids) and terpenes in cannabis affecting appetite. If you’re looking to lose some weight or keep weight off, consider purchasing a cannabis strain that is high in THCV, CBD, and/or humulene.

On the other hand, if you are interested in receiving an appetite boost, try purchasing a cannabis strain that contains high levels of THC and/or CBG. Overall, the role between cannabis and appetite is significant, and more research will continue to be conducted to find out the role additional cannabinoids and terpenes play in boosting and/or suppressing the body's appetite.

Learn More about What Terpenes Are and Their Purposes here.