The Endocannabinoid System: Cannabis & Your Appetite

Photo via Medical Jane

Photo via Medical Jane

It’s one of the most common and well-known side effects of consuming cannabis: a seemingly insatiable appetite.

The phenomenon dubbed for decades asthe munchies is one that has permeated throughout our culture so much that even people who have never experienced the process at least know of it. But what actually causes these hunger-inducing effects after a good toke?

Before we can explain what makes you ready and able to run through a full package of Oreos in one sitting, there are a few fundamental things that are important to understand. First off, it is important to know what a cannabinoid is and how they play a major part in the functioning of your body.

What Are Cannabinoids?

Cannabinoids are a diverse set of chemical compounds found in the human body whose job is to provide a two-way communication between certain receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS regulates processes in your body such as energy intake, nutrient transport, and metabolism storage. To better understand how cannabis comes into play, you must understand how this endocannabinoid system functions.

There are three important parts to the system: endocannabinoids, the receptors that recognize the presence of these cannabinoids, and two enzymes which help to synthesize and degrade them (fatty acid amide hydrolase or monoacylglycerol lipase).

“CBD works on receptors, and as it turns out, we have cannabinoids in our bodies, endogeneous cannabinoids, that turn out to be very effective at regulating immune functions, nerve functions, bone functions.” – Dr. Ethan Russo

There are three types of cannabinoids known to scientists today: endocannabinoids (found within the human body),phytocannabinoids (found in the cannabis plant), and synthetic cannabinoids (created in a lab).

The most popular cannabinoid of them all is a phytocannabinoid by the name of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis. Cannabidiol (CBD), another phytocannabinoid, runs a close second place.

Considering that there are already endocannabinoids being produced naturally within the body that are designed to provide this two-way communication between cannabinoid receptors, and that phytocannabinoids bind to the same receptors as endocannabinoids, the addition of THC and CBD from cannabis can work to help normalize the body’s systems when there is a deficiency of cannabinoids.

“CBD works on receptors, and as it turns out, we have cannabinoids in our bodies, endogeneous cannabinoids, that turn out to be very effective at regulating immune functions, nerve functions, bone functions,” stated Dr. Ethan Russo, a senior advisor to GW Pharmaceuticals, the British drug company that created a CBD/THC mouth spray known asSativex.

“There’s a tendency to discount claims when something appears to be good for everything, but there’s a reason this is the case.” – Dr. Ethan Russo

“There’s a tendency to discount claims when something appears to be good for everything, but there’s a reason this is the case,” the doctor added, “the endogenous cannabinoid system acts as a modulator in fine-tuning a lot of these systems, and if something is deranged biochemically in a person’s body, it may well be that a cannabinoid system can bring things back into balance.”

How Your ECS Controls Appetite

There are two types of cannabinoid receptors, CB1 and CB2, and they are found in the body in locations such as the brain, intestines, and the immune system.

When a cannabinoid receptor is stimulated by an endocannabinoid, various physiological functions in multiple systems of the body are activated including memory, pain sensation, mood, and most pertinent to this article, appetite.

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