How Does Cannabis Improve Your Appetite?

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Added 30 July 2022

Cannabis has been used to increase appetite since about 300 BCE. Perhaps they knew something we don't know.

Today cannabis is popularly used for both recreational and medicinal purposes. It has several medicinal benefits and boosting appetite is one of them. Apart from that cannabis is also known to reduce anxiety and nausea, especially for those suffering from the side effects of chemotherapy.

One common side effect of chemotherapy is that it reduces the appetite, making the person very nauseous and incapable of eating as much as necessary.

However, cannabis is also known to give you the munchies — it makes you want to order the biggest, cheesiest pizza or eat a few packets of chips. So, you might assume that cannabis stimulates appetite.

The truth is far more complex. It is not merely the function of a stoned mind to reach for food, but an intricate network of nerves and chemicals in your body working to stimulate your hunger. 

Learn how cannabis influences appetite and hunger in users in this article.

The Difference Between Hunger and Appetite

hunger vs. appetite

Before anything, you must understand the difference between hunger and appetite — although you may use the words interchangeably in a colloquial sense. 

Hunger can be defined as a physiological process that handles homeostatic eating, thanks to the signals from the nervous system, hormones, and proteins. On the other hand, appetite is your desire to eat, which may arise from hunger, or even stress, emotions, and other factors — it may be a hedonic drive.

Hedonic eating is when you eat food based on sensory perception and pleasure, even if your stomach is full. 

So, low appetite is common in people experiencing eating disorders or undergoing chemotherapy. Other diseases like anorexia also produce the same outcome, and the patients are underweight noticeably. These patients may be hungry, but due to reduced appetite, they may not want to eat more, leading to weight loss and other issues. 

Of course, there are various medications prescribed to combat the side effects of chemotherapy and other diseases that reduce appetite, but they come with a long list of side effects in the long run. 

Conversely, THC — known as an appetite stimulant — can make the patient high and uncomfortable, especially if they haven't had any experience with it beforehand. Thus, it boils down to what you choose and how you want to go about it. 

Appetite due to Ghrelin and the ECS System

Appetite is a result of a complex homeostatic interplay among your brain, body cells, and hormones. For instance, when you haven’t had your breakfast and feel your stomach growling, it is due to the release of ghrelin.

Ghrelin is a hormone produced by specific cells on the stomach lining, and it plays a crucial role in nutrient sensing, meal initiation, and appetite. When your stomach releases ghrelin, it enters the bloodstream and goes straight to your brain.

Ghrelin acts on specific receptors in the brain located in the hypothalamus — a part of the brain that controls the endocrine system, which regulates appetite and food intake.

Hypothalamus has two types of nerve cells that either stimulate or suppress appetite. One type of cell releases neuropeptide Y (NPY) and agouti-related peptide (AGRP), which are proteins that drive hunger. 

And the other type of cell releases cocaine- and amphetamine-regulated transcript (CART) and melanocyte-stimulating hormone (AMSH) — proteins that reduce hunger. 

So, when ghrelin reaches the hypothalamus, it stimulates the neurons to release hunger proteins and inhibit those that reduce hunger proteins. 

However, a constant release of ghrelin doesn’t sound so good — it would lead to overeating. 

Ask the ones that practice intermittent fasting. Ghrelin makes it challenging for individuals to fast for extended periods, which is why many people quit halfway during their fasts (read loud noises coming from your tummy). 

However, your body is smart. Once your stomach is full, signals reduce the ghrelin levels in the brain. 

The Endocannabinoid System 

the endocannabinoid system

The endocannabinoid system, or ECS, is responsible for various functions in the body, including the immune system, nervous system, and skeletal system. It also handles energy balance and metabolism. 

ECS consists of three main components: 

  1. Receptors: CB1 and CB2
  2. Signaling molecules: endocannabinoids like anandamide and 2-AG
  3. Enzymes: many enzymes that produce or breakdown signaling molecules 

However, new research shows that ECS may be more complex than we thought. The research reframes ECS as an endocannabinoidome, a larger model that consists of over 20 receptors, 20 enzymes, and many more endocannabinoids. 

According to the study, these components carry out various chemical processes in the body related to human metabolism. For instance, ECS is present in the pancreas, liver, muscles, adipose tissues, and other regions, and endocannabinoids target these sites to control energy homeostasis across the body. 

How does Cannabis Work on your Body?

how does cannabis work on your body

When you hear the word cannabis, it refers to a broad umbrella of plants in the cannabis species. These plants include Indica, Sativa, and the Ruderalis, also known as autoflowers.

The cannabis plant consists of many cannabinoids, out of which CBD and THC are the most popular. THC is particularly famous for giving you munchies. It does this by binding to the CB1 receptor and activating it. In this fashion, THC can increase an individual's appetite to a certain extent.

CB1 is present in various tissues of the body. It can act in several ways. One of those functions is to improve the appetite.

CB1 is present in various areas of the human body, including:

  1. The small intestine as well as the stomach. Both the organs regulate ghrelin which can also improve digestion.
  2. Limbic forebrain that can make food more palatable.
  3. Basal ganglia, which enhances pleasure when you eat food.
  4. Two major sections in your brain including the rhombencephalon (hindbrain) and hypothalamus regulates your food intake. While the hypothalamus serves as the primary area in our brain to control our appetite, the ARC or arcuate nucleus present in the hypothalamus including other regions in the brain can access hormones that relay information related to intake of calories, adiposity, and satiety.

THC essentially stimulates appetite by interacting with CB1 and activating it. It does so through these specific mechanisms:

  1. THC can reduce PYY or peptide tyrosine tyrosine levels and consequently increase ghrelin levels, thereby stimulating appetite.
  2. It also increases ghrelin by activating mTOR or mammalian target of rapamycin pathway to further stimulate appetite. 
  3. In addition, THC can activate neuron subsets such as proopiomelanocortin neurons or POMCs that can both suppress and increase hunger to various extents. 

However, you should note that the way you consume THC also matters. For example, you can consume THC through the sublingual route. Or, you could consume oral pills, smoke or vape, and even purchase medications that can be administered through the rectum. 

The method of consumption you choose can influence your calorie intake and also alter your choice of food. For instance, inhalation works faster than any other type of consumption. However, consuming THC sublingually (which means you put the medication under your tongue and wait for it to be absorbed) produces prolonged effects. 

In addition, your dosage, body type, bioavailability (the rate at which your body absorbs the medicine) and metabolism also matters. In short, the dosage and bioavailability matter the most, but it also depends on your tolerance for THC. 

The phytocannabinoids present in cannabis resemble the endocannabinoids of your body, and so they can bind to the ECS receptors and stimulate various cellular changes in your brain.

That is why consuming THC is likely to produce appetite in most cannabis users. This is because THC binds to CB1 receptors as an agonist, raising the receptor activity way above its baseline. 

At the same time, your body’s endocannabinoids also normally target the CB1 receptors as agonists, which creates a dysregulation, cascading into an overactivation of the receptors.

The result? Increased appetite or munchies.

CB2 receptors, on the other hand, also impact appetite but in a different way. Studies on mice show that CB2 agonists like fatty acid palmitoylethanolamide (PEA) reduce food consumption, whereas synthetic antagonists like Am630 increase appetite. 

CBD’s Role in Appetite

Unlike THC, CBD does not bind to CB1 as much, but it can still influence your appetite. Various animal studies suggest that CBD could bind to CB2 receptors, leading to weight loss.

However, subjective human reports state that CBD may have the opposite influence, leading to increased appetite and weight gain. 

Just like how THC resembles anandamide, CBD resembles PEA. So, CBD may work as PEA to boost anandamide levels in the ECS system, which can boost your appetite.  

More research is required to figure out where exactly CBD fits in this equation. 

Appetite due to the Olfactory System

While the above-mentioned studies focused on the ECS system of the body and its influence on appetite, a study led by Giovanni Marsicano (University of Bordeaux) took a different approach. 

The researchers focused on how THC reacted to olfactory bulbs in mice. The olfactory bulbs in the brain control the sense of smell. They observed that THC increased their olfactory processes — ability to smell food — suggesting that they may experience increased appetite after cannabis use due to their ability to better smell and taste the food. A hedonic approach.

To further concrete their observations, they altered the animals’ endocannabinoid system. The result was that when their endocannabinoid system was unaltered, they would not respond eagerly to food since they were already accustomed to the smell. However, administering THC seemed to improve their ability to smell the food.

When the researchers genetically altered the ECS system in their olfactory bulbs, they found that THC no longer improved their sense of smell. This suggests that THC and endocannabinoids followed the same neural pathway in times of hunger.

The study shows that cannabis potentially increases your appetite by boosting your olfactory senses like smell and taste, which may make you want to eat more of your favorite foods. 

Cannabis’ Potential for Appetite


Munchies are a fun experience — eating a loaded pizza when you are high is fun. However, the potential of cannabis’ effect on appetite goes far beyond just fun. Cannabis can potentially help those experiencing eating disorders, side effects from medications, and obesity. More on this below.


THC gets you high, but its cousin THCV, or tetrahydrocannabivarin, won’t get you high.

And studies have found that THCV behaves as an agonist and antagonist in the CB1 receptors, depending on its dosage. So, THVC is found to be quite beneficial as an antagonist as it reduces appetite by managing satiety and deregulation of energy metabolism, leading to weight loss. 

This is the reason why THCV has earned the nickname Diet Weed, and you can find THCV-dominant cannabis products in various coffee shops across the world. These products are marketed as a supplement that curbs your appetite, helping you lose weight. 

Eating Disorders

As mentioned above, THC and various other cannabinoids act as CB1 agonists to increase appetite. This makes cannabis a promising treatment for those suffering from eating disorders like anorexia. 

A 2011 study found that anorexia and bulimia may be liked with an underactive ECS, which can be corrected with the help of THC and other agonist cannabinoids. 

And another study in 2017 found that THC influences the psychological symptoms of eating disorders, like self-reported body care and depression. This could further help patients deal with their symptoms.

Medication Side Effects

Many medications have side effects, and some are notorious for reducing your appetite. And not just medications, some medicinal procedures like chemotherapy can also reduce a person’s appetite. 

Here, cannabis shines through as it can offset the side effect of reduced appetite with the help of agonists like THC. Plus, cannabis can help increase body weight and fat and caloric intake in the patient.

Can cannabis make you put on weight?

can cannabis make you out on weight

Most people consider cannabis users as lazy individuals with no motivation to work. The lazy stoner image created in movies is heavy on many people's minds, making them believe that cannabis usage is related to weight gain. Generally, people assume that cannabis users are prone to lie on their couches all day and munch on junk foods. 

However, if you are a cannabis user you know that this is not true in all cases. Many individuals use cannabis but still manage to maintain a healthy lifestyle and work out regularly. Many people use cannabis as a pre-workout supplement to gain the benefits the herb offers. 

Suffice it to say that not all marijuana users are lazy and not all lazy individuals use marijuana. It heavily depends on whether the user consumes it frequently or is just a habitual user. 

If you use cannabis for recreational purposes, you should know that abusing it will not deliver positive results in the long run. Therefore, the "munchies" could be just a behavioral trait. You can use cannabis to boost your productivity and maintain your waistline at the same time if you adopt a proper diet. 

Since a few studies indicate that cannabis can increase your appetite, it is natural to question if you can put on weight if you use it frequently.  

However, although it seems like an easy answer it is slightly more complex than you think. Studies that have researched the effects of cannabis affecting the weight of healthy individuals are slightly conflicting. 

One study stated that cannabis can be associated with increased fat mass. On the other hand, another study claims that cannabis makes you lose weight or reduces the waistline. 

Yet another study suggests that cannabis can improve obesity and lower the BMI. However, you should note that the studies refer to very little data, making it difficult to rely on them. Moreover, observational studies like these are considered low-quality. 

But, even high-quality studies indicate that there's no correlation between a higher BMI and cannabis use. 

You must remember that the studies we have currently are based on data collected by users in an uncontrolled environment. When the data is self-reported it becomes challenging to depend on the results of these studies. 

Other studies that used reliable methods have indicated that cannabis can increase weight. At least 3 trials that observed individuals in a controlled hospital environment noted an increase in weight. Then again, these studies collected data only over a short period with very few volunteers. Also, note that the picture could be different if the volunteers were leading a healthy active lifestyle outdoors instead of being confined in a hospital. 

On the other hand, a study conducted recently did not find any association between marijuana and weight gain. This study also claims that cannabis users don't put on as much weight compared to non-users. Note that the study collected data over 3 years.

What's fascinating is that all the volunteers in the study put on weight. However, the users who consumed cannabis did not put on as much weight as the others that did not consume cannabis. In short, there was a difference of at least two pounds between those that smoke cannabis and those that didn't.

A few other studies indicate that cannabis does not make you gain weight, but it shouldn't be so surprising considering that CBD, which is a component of cannabis, is associated with weight loss. A survey conducted in 2011 found that users were not likely to be more obese than non-users.

In conclusion, we don't know whether cannabis makes you put on or reduce weight, so it depends on what you eat after you consume marijuana.

So, the question is can cannabis make you put on weight? Well, we have very little research to determine anything at this point. In addition, the fact that THC is illegal in many parts of the globe makes it very difficult for researchers to obtain it and come to conclusions. 

As noted before, it depends on your body, metabolism, consumption method, and dosage. Even healthy individuals can see an increase in body weight if they eat a lot after consuming cannabis. On the other hand, cannabis can be very helpful for those that need a boost in their appetite. 

For instance, those suffering from cancer usually experience weight loss unintentionally. Many other diseases such as HIV and anorexia can also cause weight loss. 

The FDA has approved two synthetic THC drugs named Nabilone and Dronabinol to rectify this issue. You'll see these drugs named Cesamet, Syndros, or Marinol, and all of them are made with synthetic THC. 

Dronabinol apparently increases weight; however, there are no conclusive results. The dosage used in studies could be low or there could be legal issues that halt the research. In any case, even if some studies state that Dronabinol can make patients put on weight, there's nothing to point to positive effects on their health. 

Summary: How Does Cannabis Improve Your Appetite?

Every year, a new study gets popular for showcasing a new side of cannabis. The plant almost seems magical for the variety of health benefits it can have on humans. No wonder the followers of Hinduism regard cannabis as a sacred plant.

While clinical studies lack in general areas on cannabis’ effect on human health, one area where conclusive evidence is present is its influence on appetite. 

First, cannabis works like ghrelin to boost appetite in the human body. This task is largely handled by the ECS, where THC and some other cannabinoids act as agonists to boost appetite.

Second, cannabis may also increase your olfactory senses, making you want to eat more of those cheesy pizzas. However, you shouldn't overdo it as you might end up putting on a lot of weight. 

It is no surprise that people from all walks of life — those suffering from eating disorders, diabetes, cancer, or obesity — are reaching out to cannabis to regulate their appetite. And while cannabis has not yet been accepted as the go-to treatment for these conditions, the future sure seems promising. 


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