Science Has Finally Figured Out the Munchies

February 20th 2015

Alicia Lutes

Picture this: you're hanging out at a friends' house, spending the night watching b-movies while puffin' the bud, and an insatiable craving hits you that cannot be contained by a handful of Cheetos alone. Oh no: the munchies, as they are so called, require the whole bag. And now science has figured out, chemically speaking, exactly why.

In a study published in Nature this week, a team of researchers at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut discovered — through lab mice (though we're sure more than a few students would've been willing participants) — that the cluster of neurons (the POMC Neurons, to be exact) responsible for controlling your sense of fullness get scrambled by the cannabinoids in your pot (you know, the active compound).

The team discovered this by injecting mice with a consistent, regular dose of cannabinoids to see just what went down when the compound met the clusters, and the result surprised even them. Instead of what Tamas Horvath, a neuroscientist at the Yale School of Medicine and the leader of the study, originally hypothesized — that for the drug "to spawn that undeniable impulse to feed, it would have to bind the activity of these neurons and make them fire less," as NPR put it — the team noticed that, essentially, the opposite was happening.

The POMC Neurons increased activity on the drug, while simultaneously activating another receptor that causes the cells to actually switch up what chemical signal they send to the brain. In this case, the cells went from signaling fullness, to going full-tilt in favor of your endorphins — the neurotransmitter that increases appetite. So basically, when you take a hit, you're also hitting a switch in your hypothalamus that says "bring on the bacon. Oh and maybe the fries and the pizza and ohmygosh is that Ben & Jerry's?" ...or something.

Now it's important to note that this was done on mice, not humans, and there are plenty of other things cannabinoids mess with simultaneously that could factor into the cravings to which you can't say no, but at least you know now they're probably not psychosomatic — which is a bit of a relief, at least, right? So go ahead, order that second burrito.