Yale Study Finds "Marijuana Munchies" Linked to Brain Neurons
New findings have lead researchers to believe that the link between marijuana and hunger is not just psychological. Recently published in Nature, Yale professor Tamas Horvath, with his colleagues at the Yale School of Medicine, have monitored the brain circuitry that promotes eating and have found that neurons in the brain which are used to suppress appetite remain active while using cannabis.
These pro-opiomelanocortinneurons typically send signals to the body to let it know when to stop eating. However, Horvath and his team discovered that neurons under the influence of marijuana have the exact opposite reaction - telling the body it is hungry.
Tamas Horvath explained to the Yale News how this works:
“By observing how the appetite center of the brain responds to marijuana, we were able to see what drives the hunger brought about by cannabis and how that same mechanism that normally turns off feeding becomes a driver of eating. It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead. We were surprised to find that the neurons we thought were responsible for shutting down eating, were suddenly being activated and promoting hunger, even when you are full. It fools the brain’s central feeding system.”
It is still unclear why the neurons react in this way. More research is needed to validate the findings, but for now Horvath is hopeful these new findings can help provide insight and medications for cancer patient's loss of appetite.