Mar­i­juana brings on the munchies. Will CBD in food make us eat more?

Re­searchers have found cannabis use is gen­er­ally as­so­ci­ated with a lower BMI

The Niagara Falls Review - - Arts & Life - CARA ROSENBLOOM Cara Rosenbloom, a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian, is pres­i­dent of Words to Eat By, a nu­tri­tion com­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pany spe­cial­iz­ing in writ­ing, nu­tri­tion ed­u­ca­tion and recipe de­vel­op­ment.

As a di­eti­tian, I al­ways re­ceive an in­flux of New Year’s emails pre­dict­ing up­com­ing food trends. This year, sev­eral ex­perts have fore­cast an in­crease in foods and bev­er­ages con­tain­ing cannabid­iol, a chem­i­cal com­pound found in cannabis plants. More col­lo­qui­ally called CBD, cannabid­iol has been ap­proved by the Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion to treat some forms of epilepsy and shows po­ten­tial in treat­ing pain, nau­sea, anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion — with­out mak­ing users high.

But what about its ef­fect on hunger?

After all, smok­ing or in­gest­ing cannabis is as­so­ci­ated with the munchies. Does CBD have the same ef­fect? Could a trend to­ward CBD-in­fused foods lead to weight gain? And how might CBD af­fect peo­ple who have con­di­tions that make it dif­fi­cult to keep weight on (such as those with HIV/AIDS, can­cer, eat­ing dis­or­ders or de­pres­sion)? I con­sulted some ex­perts.

To un­der­stand their an­swers to these ques­tions, first, a quick tu­to­rial. Cannabis plants con­tain more than 100 cannabi­noids, al­though the ther­a­peu­tic and psy­choac­tive ef­fects of most of them aren’t yet known. The two most-re­searched cannabi­noids are CBD and tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol, or THC, which is the main psy­choac­tive cannabi­noid. THC makes you high; CBD doesn’t. And, it turns out, they af­fect ap­petite in dif­fer­ent ways.

THC pro­duces the well-known crav­ings for sweet and fatty foods through sev­eral mech­a­nisms, ac­cord­ing to the ex­perts I con­sulted. First, “THC in­creases the hor­mone ghre­lin, which causes you to feel hun­gry,” says Jan­ice Newell Bis­sex, a reg­is­tered di­eti­tian and holis­tic cannabis prac­ti­tioner in Mel­rose, Mass.

If your stom­ach is empty, she says, you pro­duce more of the hunger hor­mone ghre­lin, which tells the brain to gen­er­ate the sen­sa­tion of hunger. But THC can in­crease ghre­lin and trig­ger the feel­ing of hunger even if your stom­ach isn’t empty.

Sec­ond, THC hits a part of the brain that con­trols hunger. “The ap­petite-pro­mot­ing ef­fect of THC is me­di­ated by CB1 re­cep­tors lo­cated in ar­eas of the brain in­volved in ap­petite con­trol,” ex­plains Ge­orge Kunos, sci­en­tific di­rec­tor at the Na­tional In­sti­tute on Al­co­hol Abuse and Al­co­holism in the Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

And, third, THC boosts dopamine, the “feel-good” chem­i­cal in the brain, “so you get more plea­sure from eat­ing,” Bis­sex says. “THC can in­crease the sense of smell and taste, so peo­ple are more in­clined to want to eat.”

CBD, by con­trast, does not cause the munchies, the ex­perts said. But it may boost ap­petite in a dif­fer­ent way if it’s added to foods and bev­er­ages or taken as a med­i­ca­tion.

“CBD helps relieve nau­sea and can calm your ner­vous sys­tem and di­ges­tive tract” Bis­sex says. “If you feel less nau­se­ated, you may eat more. CBD also quells pain, and feel­ing less pain may also boost ap­petite.”

For that rea­son, it’s of­ten used by peo­ple with can­cer, chronic pain or other med­i­cal is­sues. (Ei­ther CBD or THC — or both — can be found in med­i­cal mar­i­juana prod­ucts.)

If THC in­creases ap­petite, does that mean recre­ational cannabis users will weigh more than nonusers be­cause they want to keep eat­ing? You’d think so, but sur­pris­ingly the an­swer is no.

“Stud­ies in­di­cate that reg­u­lar heavy cannabis users tend to be leaner than age­and gen­der-matched groups of nonusers,” Kunos says.

Over­all, cannabis use in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion is ac­tu­ally as­so­ci­ated with a lower body mass in­dex.

“In­ter­est­ingly, cannabis may help in­crease weight in those who are low weight, but not in those who are nor­mal or over­weight,” says Bis­sex.

The rea­son has not been defini­tively es­tab­lished, but may in­volve the amount of THC that some­one is ex­posed to, says Kunos says. High doses of THC can sup­press the num­ber of CB1 re­cep­tors so that fewer re­cep­tors are stim­u­lated, which could limit weight gain.

And, THC’s hunger-boost­ing ef­fect may sig­nal hope for weight-loss ef­forts. Be­cause re­searchers are able to fig­ure out how cannabis in­creases ap­petite, it may help them de­velop prod­ucts to re­duce ap­petite, too. Some drugs are “in­verse ag­o­nists,” which means that they bind to the same area in the brain but pro­duce an op­po­site re­sponse. Us­ing this the­ory, re­searchers are in­ves­ti­gat­ing how to re­duce, rather than in­crease, ap­petite us­ing CB1 re­cep­tors.

So, are the food trends ex­perts on to some­thing? Will CBD be on the menu at your favourite restau­rants and on store shelves where you buy gro­ceries? That will de­pend on where you live. You can rest as­sured that such prod­ucts will not cause the munchies — but keep in mind that weight gain could re­sult from con­sum­ing the beer, sweets and pas­tries them­selves.


Un­like THC, CBD does not cause the munchies, but its abil­ity to calm pain and soothe your di­ges­tive tract may make you feel bet­ter and more in­clined to eat.

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