Why Does Weed Make You Hungry?

If you’ve ever smoked weed, chances are you've felt pretty hungry afterwards. Maybe you even said, “I’m starving” as you plowed through a Nachos BellGrande, a Quesarito Combo, and a Crunchwrap Supreme.

Well, you were right—you were starving. Or at least, your body thought you were. And that's because of tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, which is the main psychoactive component in marijuana.

A 2015 study conducted on mice by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine found that THC flipped a switch in the rodents' brain circuitry, making them feel hungry rather than full.

“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,” said Tamas Horvath, the study's lead author.

“It’s like pressing a car’s brakes and accelerating instead,” Horvath explained. “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.”

Assuming that THC has a similar effect on humans, it's easy to understand how smoking weed would produce insatiable cravings for anything and everything.

But that’s not the only science at work when it comes to getting the munchies: THC also binds to cannabinoid receptors known as CB1s in the brain's olfactory bulb, making food aromas more intense, which increases your perception of flavor. So not only are you convinced that you’re ravenous, but things smell and taste better than they do when you’re not high, which is kind of a double whammy.

While this all may be a little annoying if you’re trying to cut back on your fast-food intake, the link between hunger and THC is potentially great news for people who have trouble eating due to illness or other medical reasons. For instance, marijuana has been shown to be an effective appetite stimulant in cancer patients. If researchers know exactly what causes that appetite surge, they may be able to use the munchies to benefit those who need it.

Pandemic vs. Epidemic: What’s the Difference?

If scientists can't develop a vaccine for a new virus quickly enough, an epidemic can turn into a pandemic.
If scientists can't develop a vaccine for a new virus quickly enough, an epidemic can turn into a pandemic.
doble-d/iStock via Getty Images

As the new coronavirus continues to spread around the world, the words epidemic and pandemic are showing up in news reports more often than they usually do. While the terms are closely related, they don’t refer to the same thing.

As the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) explains on its website, “an epidemic occurs when an infectious disease spreads rapidly to many people.” Usually, what precedes an epidemic is an outbreak, or “a sudden rise in the number of cases of a disease.” An outbreak can affect a single community or several countries, but it’s on a much smaller scale than an epidemic.

If an epidemic can’t be contained and keeps expanding its reach, public health officials might start calling it a pandemic, which means it’s affected enough people in different areas of the world to be considered a global outbreak. In short, a pandemic is a worldwide epidemic. It infects more people, causes more deaths, and can also have widespread social and economic repercussions. The spread of the Spanish influenza from 1918 to 1919, which killed between 20 and 40 million people around the world, was a pandemic; more recently, the H1N1 influenza created a pandemic in 2009.

Here’s where it gets a little tricky: There’s no cut-and-dried classification system for outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics. Based on the definitions above, it might seem like the current coronavirus disease, now called COVID-19, falls into the pandemic category already—according to a map from the World Health Organization (WHO), there are more than 80,000 confirmed cases in 34 countries, and nearly 2700 people have died from the disease. It’s also beginning to impact travel, stock markets, and the global economy as a whole. But WHO maintains that although the situation has the potential to become a pandemic, it’s still an epidemic for now.

“It really is borderline semantics, to be honest with you,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN earlier this month. “I think you could have people arguing each end of it. Pandemics mean different things to different people.”

[h/t APIC.org]

Fat Bats Might Be Resistant to Deadly White-Nose Syndrome

Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Penn State, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Good news for flying mammals: chubby little brown bats might be genetically resistant to white-nose syndrome, a fungal disease that’s killed more than 5.5 million bats since it was first documented in 2006 [PDF]. A new study in the journal Scientific Reports describes three genetic adaptations in the bats that could protect them from the pathogen.

Little brown bats (Myotis lucifugus), common in Canada and the eastern United States, are especially susceptible to white-nose syndrome. According to lead author Giorgia G. Auteri, a doctoral candidate at the University of Michigan, white-nose syndrome kills bats by disrupting their hibernation cycles.

“When they’re in hibernation in the winter, they’re not meant to be waking up. They’re supposed to be asleep,” Auteri tells Mental Floss. “But this fungus grows on them, and it causes the bats to keep waking up during hibernation. And because they’re waking up when they shouldn’t be, they’re running out of fat reserves too early.”

But while white-nose syndrome has devastated bat populations in North America, not all infected bats die from the disease—some recover. Auteri wanted to find out what made the survivors so special.

Auteri and her team compared the genetic makeup of nine surviving and 29 non-surviving little brown bats from northern Michigan. They discovered that survivors share three important genetic distinctions. “One is involved with fat metabolism,” she says. “And another is involved with regulating when the bats wake up from hibernation. And the third gene is involved in their echolocation ability, in their sonar for hunting insects.”

The results make sense, Auteri says. Because white-nose syndrome interrupts bats’ hibernation schedules, bats with genes that relate to more optimal fat storage (i.e., they’re fatter) and better hibernation regulation (i.e., they sleep longer) are more likely to survive the disease.

Auteri’s research could help scientists and conservationists find ways to preserve little brown bat populations. Besides being adorable, little brown bats also play an important ecological role as predators of insects like mosquitoes, moths, and other pests that are destructive to crops and forests.

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