Cannabis science – “The munchies” don’t only affect humans

Published Apr 26, 2023 09:00 a.m. ET
Unsplash / Esteban López

If you’ve used cannabis in any form you’re likely intimately familiar with the common side effect called the munchies – an intense and at times insatiable desire to eat everything you can find. What you probably don’t realize is that this phenomenon isn’t only experienced by us humans. Even nematode worms can feel a bit munchy after ingesting cannabinoids a fact proven by a team of researchers in Oregon.

The worm experiment

In Oregon, a team of lab researchers went to work testing the theory that other creatures' appetites may also be affected by cannabinoids, and it all started with a tiny species of nematode worms called Caenorhabditis elegans. The worms were soaked in cannabinoids and monitored closely for behavioral and food preference changes.

Much to the surprise of the experts leading the study it didn’t take long for the C. elegans to react the same way you’d expect from humans, by engaging in hedonic feeding driven by a bad case of the munchies. Not only were they hungrier than usual but they also seemed to find their favorite foods more appealing than alternatives that were far more accessible and available in larger quantities.

Their research showed the world that worms just like people are influenced in a similar manner by cannabinoids.

Caenorhabditis elegans preferred foods

Unlike human beings who typically reach for the closest tastiest junk food, the C. elegans in the worm experiment fed on several different varieties of bacteria. To come to this enlightening conclusion researchers carefully tracked the rate these worms swallowed bacteria, as well as the types they were most drawn to.

The study revealed how these nematodes craved bacteria they would normally find more palatable, as well as how effective these cannabis compounds can be for increasing appetite, even in some of the world's smallest creatures. To determine their preference for perceived junk food bacteria, a t-shaped maze was created.

In the end, it was clear that C. elegans worms would predictably and mindlessly follow the junk food bacteria bait with vigor, suggesting an intense craving for less healthy sustenance. Remember this next time you feel guilty about getting stoned and eating a whole row of Oreos. It’s really not just you deciding to make unhealthy choices - it’s the cannabis!

The power of cannabinoids


According to the results of that study active components in cannabis has an almost immediate impact on these worms due to how they make  the Caenorhabditis elegans olfactory neurons more sensitive,  thereby increasing the appeal of favorite foods while also making their least favorite alternatives noticeably less enticing.

Humans and animals on the other hand generally experience the munchies when receptors in the brain, nervous system, and other parts of the body respond to naturally present molecules called endocannabinoids.

Cannabinoids can interact with those very same receptors which can cause many different effects from changing the way you perceive and feel the world to a significant increase in appetite.

How worms can help with cannabinoid research

Though the study was quite interesting at this point you might be thinking about whether or not this knowledge can really help people. Lucky for you we’re here to explain why and how these nematodes will help to advance cannabis research.

C. elegans are often used when we need to test products, substances, and medicines to ensure they’re safe for people. This particular specifies is used quite often in clinical and neuroscience research, because of the way they are so often impacted by cannabis, just like humans.

Researchers have long known the value these organisms offer in terms of medicinal and recreational research, which is why they’re frequently used in so many other studies on things like cannabis, and prescription medication.

This data adds crucial information to the growing body of evidence showing how real the munchies can be. It’s a real phenomenon, experienced by humans and many other types of animals as well. Whether you’re a worm lover or just someone who likes to learn more about cannabis, cannabinoids are practically guaranteed to leave you feeling hungry and perhaps even a little bit snacky!

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