Does CBD Give You The Munchies?

August 31, 2023
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Does CBD make you hungry?

Cannabis has long had a reputation for leaving consumers with the munchies — the intense craving, particularly for sweet and savory treats, that may strike cannabis connoisseurs after a toke or two. 

The association between cannabis and increased appetite, however, results from the hunger-inducing effects of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). But what about cannabidiol (CBD), THC’s increasingly popular non-intoxicating counterpart?

Current scientific evidence gives us mixed results when it comes to the question of whether CBD makes you hungry, with a significant portion of studies suggesting that, in certain situations or under certain conditions, CBD may actually decrease appetite.

In this post, we’ll start by breaking down the relationship between hunger and the endocannabinoid system before diving into a more detailed discussion of the current science regarding CBD and hunger. We’ll also explore the relationships between CBD and metabolic syndrome, which is related to hunger and eating behaviors.

Hunger and the endocannabinoid system

Hunger can be difficult to put into the quantifiable, scientific context we need in order to answer whether CBD makes you hungry. A 2020 journal article exploring the psychobiology of hunger — that is, how we think about and physically experience hunger — provides one useful approach.

The authors describe hunger as essentially “a biologically useful sensation which reminds organisms that food should be sought or eaten.”

They go on to clarify that hunger is “neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for eating” and that eating is also done for pleasure or as a result of learned patterns of reward processing. Importantly, they also acknowledge that hunger “can only be understood as part of a wider functional system,” though they don’t specify whether the endocannabinoid system plays a role in that wider system.

The endocannabinoid system expands through nearly the entire human body and is tasked broadly with maintaining homeostasis, or balance, within the body. Hunger and eating are key parts of maintaining that balance, and previous studies have demonstrated a connection between the endocannabinoid system, feelings of hunger, and eating behaviors. 

A 2022 review article examining those previous studies states that there is a “clear link” between the endocannabinoid system and appetitive behaviors.

“In both animal and human studies, cannabinoid receptors, particularly CNR1, and FAAH have been found to modulate food intake,” the study’s authors report. CNR1 and FAAH are the genes that regulate the CB1 receptor and FAAH enzyme respectively.

The authors also note that the endocannabinoid system seems to respond to what they call hedonic eating, or eating for the sake of pleasure rather than to satiate hunger or obtain nutrients. 

One study they used to support this point, for example, found that levels of the endocannabinoid 2-AG were higher in study participants who were asked to consume foods they enjoyed despite not being hungry — an interesting observation, given that hedonic eating may upset the internal balance the endocannabinoid system is aiming for.

Does CBD make you hungry? 

Current research may support our expectations regarding CBD’s influence on hunger, though the quantity and quality of the available research aren’t always of the highest quality.

There are, however, several studies focusing on the effects of THC in relation to hunger, a trend that makes sense given the popular association of the intoxicating cannabinoid and feelings of hunger. Still, this information may be useful for answering the question at hand.

By clarifying the mechanism by which THC makes people hunger, for example, the findings of one 2013 study let us take an educated guess as to why CBD might not make you feel hungry. The study, which focused on how THC exposure impacted rats’ response to sugar, found that the animals’ response was mediated by the CB1 receptor in the endocannabinoid system. 

THC primarily interacts with CB1 receptors, which are located primarily in the brain and the rest of the central nervous system. In contrast, CBD doesn’t interact with CB1 in the same way as THC, and may actually act as a CB1 antagonist, meaning that it produces the opposite response to an agonist such as THC or blocks the response that would otherwise have been caused by the agonist.

Based on the information above, we might expect CBD to either have little to no effect on hunger (by not interacting with CB1 receptors) or to suppress hunger (as a CB1 antagonist).

One systematic review, published in 2022, lends some credence to our hypothesis.

The review found that, based on the findings of the 11 studies the review’s authors were able to find, CBD might produce “an anorexigenic [i.e., causing a loss of appetite] effect, correlated with a decrease in body weight.” However, the authors do note some concerns about bias in the studies they reviewed and point to a general dearth of reliable information regarding CBD and appetite.

CBD and metabolic syndrome

In addition to exploring the effects of CBD on hunger, other studies have explored the cannabinoid’s potential use as a treatment tool for metabolic syndrome, a condition affecting 1 in 3 Americans defined by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) as “a group of conditions that together raise your risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and other serious health problems.” According to the NHLBI, those conditions include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, high blood triglycerides, and low HDL cholesterol.

A 2023 review article lays out the current research, which has presented mixed results for treating the conditions associated with metabolic syndrome. For example, regarding glucose metabolism (which is closely related to metabolic syndrome and involves the breaking down of carbohydrates), researchers have found that CBD exposure increased glucose uptake in a study of isolated tissue and in a study using rats. Another study using human participants, however, found no improvement.

CBD has also caught the eye of researchers focused on high blood pressure, or hypertension, but the 2023 review’s authors report that studies of CBD and hypertension have produced mixed results as well. 

One study using rats, for example, found that a “constant” dose of CBD at 10 mg/kg “had a protective effect on [blood] vessels, reduced vascular hypertrophy, and stimulated nitric oxide (NO)-dependent arterial vasodilation.”

“This may lead to the conclusion that CBD, by increasing the secretion of nitric oxide (NO) and thus leading to vasodilation, will lower blood pressure,” the authors conclude.

“In addition, the study did not show any harmful effects of daily use of a constant dose of cannabidiol on blood vessels, and its positive effects may in the future be considered for the treatment/prophylaxis of people with hypertension.”

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