One moonlit summer evening last year, a group of friends and I sat around a campfire, passing a joint back and forth until the early hours of the morning. A few hours later, I woke up with a hunger so fierce it almost derailed me. Doritos, my brain commanded. Salsa flavor. Now. I was instantly fixated on one objective: get the Doritos as quickly as humanly possible, and consume the entire bag.

When I had satiated that craving, it was replaced by another, equally unhealthy, equally specific desire: cheesy NY-style mushroom pizza. My veganism lapsed that day, and the day will be forever etched in memory as my first proper encounter with the munchies. Suffice it to say, I was awed by their all-pervasive power, and literally incapacitated by my ravenous appetite.

The munchies are one of the tropes most commonly associated with cannabis consumption. Most of us who have gotten high are familiar with the insatiable desire to snack, minutes or hours later. What’s the science behind cannabis fueling a desire to eat everything within sight? The main culprit is THC.

THC: Hello, appetite!

“THC is an appetite stimulant,” explains Dr. Patricia Frye, cannabis expert and chief medical officer at HelloMD. THC works to partially activate the brain’s CB1 receptors. “When the CB1 receptors are activated, they stimulate areas of the brain that produce appetite, or the desire to eat,” Frye says. “Any mode of delivery that delivers THC to the bloodstream and brain, including inhalation, oromucosal methods, or edibles, can increase the user’s appetite.”

It’s no coincidence that medicinal cannabis offers so many benefits to individuals living with cancer or undergoing chemotherapy. Cannabis can help to boost appetite, whereas cancer and its treatments often dampen it.

The munchies are also beneficial for those who are so busy doing life they forget to prioritize eating. Alexis Rosenbaum, of Rosebud CBD, reveres the munchies for this particular reason. “I love them,” she reflects. “They’re my favorite side effect of cannabis.”

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