We may be closer to understanding why marijuana gives people the “munches” and why medical marijuana is a useful appetite stimulator for those suffering from HIV or cancer. According to a new study published in the Nature Neuroscience, cannabinoid receptors in the brain of mice enhance their ability to smell, causing them to eat more.

If you think food smells and tastes better after consuming marijuana, it is possible that is because THC increases your sense of smell/taste in the same way being very hungry would.

The study found the cannabinoid type-1 (CB1) receptor in the olfactory bulb is responsible for increasing odor detection. This in turn leads to greater food intake in mice. When normal mice have gone without food their brain releases its own endocannabinoids which activates the CB1. Plant-based cannabinoids such as THC appear to stimulate this same pathway increasing the sense of smell.

To demonstrate the role this receptor plays, the researchers created mice which lacked it. Unlike regular mice, when these mice where given THC or put on a fast there was not a similar increase in their odor detection or food intake.

This study was on mice so it may not translate to humans, but it seems a very promising avenue of research for treating a range of conditions.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Image by JentheMeister under Creative Commons License