For the first time, a federally funded study conducted by researchers at Washington State University (WSU) has pinpointed the specific neural activity in the brain triggered by marijuana use that leads to the phenomenon known as the “munchies.” Published in the journal Scientific Reports, the study reveals that cannabis activates a distinct cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus region, stimulating appetite.
Utilizing vaporized cannabis on mice, the researchers employed calcium imaging technology to monitor changes in neuron activity, similar to a brain MRI. The study demonstrated that marijuana vapor binds to cannabinoid-1 receptors and activates “feeding” neurons called Agouti Related Protein neurons in the hypothalamus.
The findings provide valuable insights that could contribute to the development of targeted therapeutics for conditions such as anorexia and obesity. According to Jon Davis, an assistant professor of neuroscience at WSU, this research sheds light on previously unknown biological mechanisms associated with the appetite-promoting effects of cannabis.
In more scientific terms, the study indicates that the “pharmacological activation of CB1R attenuated inhibitory synaptic tone onto hunger-promoting Agouti Related Peptide (AgRP) neurons within the MBH,” or mediobasal hypothalamus. The study’s use of vaporized whole-plant marijuana, as opposed to injected THC in prior research, enhances its relevance to individuals who consume cannabis.
Funded in part by federal agencies such as the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), along with support from alcohol-related state revenue, the study adds to our understanding of the brain’s response to recreational cannabis and its appetite-stimulating properties.
While the “munchies” phenomenon has intrigued scientists for years, recent studies have shown mixed results regarding the association between cannabis use and obesity. Despite being a well-known appetite stimulator, adult-use legalization was associated with decreased obesity levels, as per a 2022 study. Additionally, a meta-analysis from the previous year found a lower likelihood of type 2 diabetes development among marijuana users.
To read the study’s final findings click here 
To read about how despite “the Munchies” being a side effect of marijuana use, obesity has gone down, click here