Back to Scientific Advancement

The Munchies Explained: Why Cannabis Makes You Hungry

If you know anything at all about cannabis, it’s that once you’ve imbibed, you better watch out for the munchies. But what exactly are the munchies?

Sure, they’re an irresistible, unstoppable, impossible-to-ignore desire to go snack—preferably on something crunchy, sweet, salty, and fatty. But keep reading to find out why cannabis makes you hungry, where we’ll answer your burning questions like:

  • What are the munchies?
  • What causes the munchies?
  • Do people crave certain foods when they’re high?
  • Could the munchies actually be a good thing?
  • How to stop the munchies

Ready to dig in? Let’s go!

The Munchies Explained: A Classic Effect of Cannabis

Let us set the scene: It’s 2 am and you’re wanting to wind down after a big night out. You imbibe a little cannabis, knowing it’ll help you get some solid rest. Except suddenly, you’re not sleepy—you’re starving. EVERYTHING sounds good, from munchy potato chips to briny pickles to granola to…wait.

Hold it. You’ve just been hit with a massive dose of the munchies.

Confused? As it turns out, the science behind the munchies is becoming clear. For years, researchers investigated several theories about cannabis-induced hunger, including the possibility that the plant’s well-known ability to induce dopamine release simply made ordinary pleasures—like food, music, and sex—exponentially more powerful.

That may be a factor, but a new study from researchers at Washington State University finds that cannabis stimulates specific hunger-causing neurons in the hypothalamus, a region of the brain that produces hormones controlling mood, hunger, heart rate, and other critical functions.

While these findings are intended to help clinicians understand the mechanics behind appetite (and how medical cannabis can help those who’ve lost their appetite due to chemotherapy and similar treatments), they also shed light on just what’s behind the munchies.

Why Does Cannabis Make You Hungry? Focusing on THC

Does all cannabis cause the munchies? Yes and no. While the study focused on THC—the principal cannabinoid in the plant and the one most directly associated with the psychoactive “high”—it’s far from the only compound found in cannabis. Choosing strains that are lower in THC can help mitigate the munchies.

What about CBD? Though some research suggests the “second cannabinoid” may help mitigate some of the effects of THC, newer studies appear to refute this. One paper published in 2023 found that, at least in cannabis edibles, CBD inhibited the breakdown of THC, leading to longer and more intense highs. Given that the effects of edibles often stretch into the 4-hour zone and more, it’s something to be aware of if you’re looking to tame the munchies and other potential side effects of cannabis ingestion.

In just a moment, we’ll share another tip to help you find potentially “low-munchie” cannabis strains. But first: Why do certain foods just seem irresistible when we’re under the influence?

What’s For Dinner: Do People Crave Certain Foods When High?

If you’re high enough, anything can taste great. But why do certain foods appeal to the stoned more than others? A 2009 study from Japan suggested one answer: Cannabis appears to modulate taste receptors, accentuating the sweetness in foods and thus making them seem even more appetizing.

A similar study from the previous year backed this up, finding that cannabis also stokes the desire for fatty foods. That backs up the anecdotal evidence that sweet and highly processed foods—we’re talking to you, Doritos—are especially appealing when high.

Interestingly—and despite years of stereotyping to the contrary—cannabis use doesn’t necessarily correlate with obesity or weight gain. A study published in 2019 found that cannabis users tended to be less overweight or obese than those who abstain.

Man in a denim shirt holding a half-eaten sandwich in one hand and gesturing stop with the other hand against a light blue background.

Piling on with even more evidence, another study from 2006 found that those who regularly used cannabis had lower cholesterol levels than those who didn’t. Though cholesterol isn’t associated with weight in and of itself, it’s an indicator of general cardiovascular health, which is in itself a major contributing factor to both weight gain and weight loss.

When the Munchies Are a Good Thing

As we hinted earlier, stimulating the appetite isn’t always a bad thing. If you or someone you know has undergone chemotherapy or other high-impact medical interventions, they can seriously sap the appetite and make recovery that much more challenging.

Cannabis has always played a role here, helping those who need to keep up their weight find the motivation to eat more when it’s most needed. In the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, Mary “Brownie Mary” Rathbun was a hospital volunteer who picked up her nickname from bringing homemade cannabis-infused brownies to AIDS patients (she later co-founded California’s first medical cannabis dispensary, the San Francisco Buyers Club).

Thanks to that first study we referenced, we know know precisely which neurons cannabis stimulates to stimulate the appetite. This in turn may allow researchers to design cannabinoid-based treatments to treat specific conditions relating to a loss of appetite, such as anorexia nervosa, or even create treatment plans that don’t involve any psychoactivity at all. How? it appears that the cannabinoid CBG may have the potential to spur hunger—even though it’s not considered intoxicating.

How to Stop the Munchies: 3 Strategies for Success

If you’re not looking to overstimulate your appetite, here are three proven ways to avoid the potential for succumbing to overindulging when you’ve got the munchies.

  • Strategy 1: Plan Ahead

If possible, time your session so that it doesn’t coincide with a regular meal (studies suggest that keeping a regular meal schedule is healthier for us anyway). And if you’d rather not overindulge in unhealthy snacks, stock up on healthier alternatives beforehand. Fresh fruits and veggies or minimally unprocessed snacks like dried fruit and nuts are a great alternative to chips, ice cream, and pizza.

  • Strategy 2: Stay Active

If you find that enduring the munchies isn’t great for your mental or emotional health, think about alternate activities: Going for a hike, exercising, meditating, or any of the other many activities that can be enhanced by conscious cannabis use.

  • Strategy 3: Choose Your Strain Wisely

We mentioned previously that reducing the amount of THC you intake can help stop the munchies in their tracks. But there’s a little-known cannabinoid called “THCV” that may play a role here too. Studies suggest that it decreases appetite, increases satiety (or the sensation of fullness), and may spur the metabolism. Where can you find THCV? It occurs in some very well-known strains, including Blue Dream, Durban Poison, and Skunk #1.

Get Ready for Your Next Session with Green Goods

To recap: Yes, the munchies are very definitely real, and—as scientists have only recently learned—they occur when THC binds to receptors in the hypothalamus. This suggests some promising new lines of treatment for conditions requiring a little appetite boost, and might also help us better understand the mechanics of the munchies.

And while cannabis use in and of itself actually correlates with less obesity and lower cholesterol, this doesn’t mean that giving in to the munchies all the time is desirable. If you’re trying to curb the effects of the munchies, be sure to have healthy snacks on hand, stay active rather than sedentary, and think about low-THC—or even high-THCV strains—that might naturally lessen the impact of the munchies.

If you’re thinking about snacks for your next session, check out our guide to the best foods to eat while high—a curated list that has a little something for all tastes and diets. Or ask the friendly budtender at your local Green Goods location for their favorite strains that deliver whatever you’re looking for, whether that’s beneficial medical effects, the full range of flavors and aromas, or the inspiration to kick back and relax with friends.

Have any other questions about the munchies, how cannabis affects our brains—or any other cannabis-related topics? Drop us a line; we’re here to help.