Why Does Marijuana Make Food Taste So Good? Science Has the Answer
Celebrating 420? Here’s why you’re likely to pair your cannabis with some choice junk food.
- Studies conducted on mice have linked THC to a heightened sense of smell, which is closely related to taste.
- Research has shown that sugary and fatty flavor profiles may be enhanced when THC is ingested.
- We won’t have a concrete understand of marijuana’s affect on our appetite unless scientists are allowed to conduct meaningful research on the drug.
For most Americans, April 20, 2018, is just another Friday. For marijuana enthusiasts, it’s the most sacred day of the year, which means it’s indirectly a high holiday for snacking. Yes, as stoners sit down to spark up their joints, bongs, and bubblers to celebrate 420, they’ll also be downing an unholy amount of junk food, and that junk food will taste really, really good. When you’re high, chips, snack cakes, and microwavable pizza rolls are as a good as a five-star meal.
But is there any science to support the commonly held belief that marijuana makes food taste better? Are the munchies real? Well, kind of. Although very few studies have been conducted with humans, there is indeed lab research that indicates that food could be more delicious while high.
What does smoking marijuana do to your body?
In 2014, a study published in the journal Nature Neuroscience concluded that THC activated receptors in mice brains that heightened their sense of smell. This led the critters to eat more. Taste and scent are linked, and an enhanced ability to smell that slice of bacon is thought to make it taste better too.
How marijuana affects the human body is complicated, and there’s still a lot we don’t know. THC in cannabis binds to and activates cannabinoid receptors in cells throughout the body, including the brain, tongue, and gut, according to neuroscientist Nicholas DiPatrizio of the University of California, Riverside. These receptors are involved in regulating things like mood, memory, and pleasure.
DiPatrizio explains that when receptors on our tongue and in our gut are activated, a message is sent to the brain that elicits cravings. Although many processes occur when you get high, it’s our mind that tell us those grocery store cookies taste as good as mom’s.
Why does marijuana make you crave junk food?
When it comes to an affinity for certain foods, say cake over pie, the brain is responsible for evaluating what we’re eating and determining what tastes good and bad, DiPatrizio says. When you smoke, cannabis activates several regions in the control center, including an area tied to the reward system, which makes munchies extra pleasurable.
“The ventral striatum is a very important part in the body that assigns hedonic value to foods,” DiPatrizio says. “So if you would ingest cannabis, the chemical is going to activate cells in that area of the brain and very likely increase this liking of foods.”
DiPatrizio’s research has shown that weed could make certain foods more appealing, particularly sweets or fat. A study he conducted in 2008 revealed that activating the brain’s parabrachial nucleus caused mice to eat more sugary and fatty foods, but not bland items. He believes this occurs because these are the two flavor profiles that are enhanced when THC activates this region.
So are the munchies real?
Yes, kind of, but we need more research before we can have a definitive understanding of the effect marijuana can have on one’s appetite. That’s unlikely to occur as long as the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I narcotic, which prevents meaningful research from being conducted.
But DiPatrizio certainly doesn’t rule out what stoners already believe to be true. “It’s very possible that cannabis will make you like foods more,” he says.
Any stoner will tell you that food tastes better when you're high, but what does science say?