Study Confirms Recreational Marijuana Can Cause the Munchies

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola Fact Checked

recreational marijuana can cause the munchies

Story at-a-glance -

  • Data collected by University of Connecticut researchers demonstrate recreational use of marijuana triggered sales in junk foods, including chips, ice cream and cookies
  • The research was started to measure the effects of the munchies on obesity rates, which is planned for the second half of the data collection. Junk foods are in part responsible for the rising obesity rates as the products are high in sugar and carbohydrates, with almost no nutritional value
  • The human body has an endocannabinoid system influenced by naturally produced cannabinoid-type substances; those deficient may have a higher risk of migraines, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Treatment with cannabidiol (CBD) from the cannabis plant has demonstrated effectiveness against ALS, arthritis, blood pressure, Parkinson’s disease, cancer pain, nausea and loss of appetite

As a result of breeders selectively growing marijuana plants for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), marijuana became known as a plant that gives you a high. As a result, the original medicinal properties and uses for cannabis largely fell by the wayside and the U.S. added marijuana to their Schedule 1 Controlled Substances list in 1970, reserved for illicit drugs such as heroin, LSD and Ecstasy.

Based on the Controlled Substance Act,1 drugs in this group must have a high potential for abuse, have no acceptable medicinal use and lack acceptable safety under medical supervision.2 Before being added to the Schedule 1 list, marijuana was listed in the U.S Pharmacopoeia (USP) until 1942 and prescribed by physicians for nausea, rheumatism and labor pain.3

In a decision reversing their previous classification of marijuana as a drug having no acceptable medicinal use, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has removed some cannabidiols out of the most restrictive class of substances making it a Schedule V drug.4

This move was made three months after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first nonsynthetic cannabidiol (CBD) preparation for epilepsy. The DEA announcement means the epilepsy drug can be distributed through traditional pharmaceutical channels requiring a physician's prescription, instead of through medical marijuana dispensaries.

Although many proponents of medical cannabis were encouraged by the change in the DEA's position on CBD, it is more likely a step toward creating a pharmaceutical distribution channel rather than accepting CBD as a legitimate medical treatment.

The number of states that have decriminalized, legalized or allowed medical marijuana sales continues to grow. In some states, marijuana is fully legal or illegal, but in others the laws are mixed, allowing medicinal use but not decriminalizing recreational use.5

Researchers from the University of Connecticut recently released a study showing sales of ice cream, cookies and chips increased immediately after a state legalized the sale of recreational marijuana.6

Cannabis Use Can Cause the Munchies

Although there are some hypotheses as to why this occurs, at the present time there is no causal evidence supporting the effect on the brain. But, as the Connecticut researchers expected, after smoking marijuana, many enjoy a junk food binge, especially certain high-calorie foods.7

To get their information, assistant professor of economics, Michele Baggio, Ph.D., in collaboration with a professor from Georgia State University, evaluated data on the monthly purchases of high-calorie junk food such as ice cream, chips and cookies in more than 2,000 counties over a 10-year period.8

Analysis compared buying trends against the implementation date of marijuana laws, finding legalization increased purchases from 3 percent to 5 percent for the junk food evaluated. Baggio believes that while the numbers may seem small, they are statistically significant to both users and the economy.9

Initially, the economists had set out to determine if there was a tie between the legalization of marijuana and rising obesity rates that may be connected to an increase in junk food consumption. In this study, the researchers analyzed the trends and sales, but further analysis of obesity rates may come at a later date.

The researchers’ concern is that rising rates of marijuana legalization and usage may contribute to growing waistlines, and policymakers may want to consider this issue as they contemplate legalizing marijuana in other states.10

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Rising Rates of Obesity Fueled in Part by Junk Foods

Junk food is a multibillion-dollar industry, so a 5 percent rise in sales of one product is a significant jump. In his book, “Fast Food Nation,” Eric Schlosser, investigative journalist and best-selling author, describes how nearly 90 percent of America's budget is spent on junk food,11 and nearly 60 percent of what is eaten is ultraprocessed convenience food available at the local gas station.12

The junk food industry uses several advertising ploys to paint their products in a better light, especially as more consumers are starting to question a diet based solely on salt and sugar. Reliance on ultraprocessed foods is undoubtedly a primary driving factor in the skyrocketing rates of obesity and chronic disease.

Although many "know better," it can be difficult to eliminate foods more addictive than cocaine.13 A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed only 10 percent of Americans are getting enough fruits and vegetables in their daily diet.14

This translates to 90 percent of Americans not eating enough real food to support optimal health. The researchers found those who consumed five servings a day of fruits and vegetables lowered their risk of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes and obesity. Ultraprocessed foods are ultimately devoid of any meaningful nutrition and full of empty calories.

In a cross-sectional study using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of over 9,000 participants, researchers concluded,15 "Decreasing the consumption of ultraprocessed foods could be an effective way of reducing the excessive intake of added sugars in the USA."

Differences Between Recreational and Medical Cannabis

Medical marijuana is the use of a whole, unprocessed marijuana plant or pure extracts to treat a disease or improve symptoms. The plant must be sourced from a medicinal grade cannabis plant that has been meticulously grown without the use of toxic pesticides and/or fertilizers.

The incredible healing properties of medical marijuana come primarily from high levels of CBD and critical levels of other medicinal terpenes and flavonoids. However, THC, responsible for the psychoactive effects of marijuana, also has medicinal benefits. Growers are able to use selective breeding techniques to increase CBD and lower levels of THC for medicinal use.

You Have an Endocannabinoid System

Despite the Schedule 1 categorization of marijuana, CBD and THC do have acceptable medicinal uses. Historically, it was used as a botanical medication, but today the use is backed by many studies crediting most of the healing potential to CBD. This is the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant.

In the 1990s, cannabinoid receptors were found in the human body, leading scientists to realize the human body naturally produces compounds that influence these receptors.16 Deficiencies in endogenous cannabinoids have been identified in those suffering with migraines,17 fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome and a variety of treatment-resistant conditions.18

Carl Germano, Ph.D., an expert in phytocannabinoids, is excited about the future for study and what he calls the most important botanical plant on the planet.19 Interestingly, an intimate relationship exists between your body's endocannabinoid system and your omega-3 levels, as these fats increase the activity of your cannabinoid receptors. Research also suggests exercise such as yoga has an effect on your endocannabinoid system.20

Cannabis Demonstrates Health Benefits

Cannabinoid receptors are found throughout your body, including your brain, pancreas, liver, kidneys and immune system.21 Scientists continue to research the impact they have on your health and the importance in regulating pain, anxiety, bone growth and immune function.22

Studies demonstrate cannabis is an excellent painkiller.23 When the oil is applied topically, the antioxidants may help heal sunburn. Other conditions that respond well to treatment with CBD include:

Arthritis, osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis24

Degenerative neurological disorders such as dystonia25

Cancer pain, nausea, loss of appetite26

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)27

Antitumor properties28

Autism spectrum disorders29

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)30

Irritable bowel disease31

Opioid addiction32

Multiple sclerosis33

Parkinson's disease34

Epilepsy and seizures35

Hepatitis C36

Blood pressure37

Anxiety and sleep disturbances38

Allergic asthma39

Medical marijuana may be administered through a variety of routes, including inhalation, under the tongue, ingestion (pills or edibles) and topical ointments or lotions. Dr. Margaret Gedde, a Stanford trained pathologist40 who specializes in the therapeutic use of cannabis, states the side effect of concern is the psychoactivity of THC.

Too high a dose of THC may trigger anxiety, so it's important to seek out CBD with low THC formulations. That said, THC and CBD work well in combination, as CBD helps temper the psychoactivity of THC. When cannabis is taken in raw form, you also receive THC acid (THCA),41 which doesn't have psychoactive effects and has been shown to relieve pain and spasms.

THCA is only present in the raw form of the plant and not in a laboratory formulation. Therefore, if you are able to source medical cannabis low in THC and high in CBD, you'll experience the health benefits of CBD and THCA, without the potential to trigger anxiety from THC.

+ Sources and References