If you’re someone who enjoys the occasional joint or dose of THC, you may be familiar with the hunger and infamous munchies that ensue afterwards. Suddenly, a whole bag of potato chips has been eaten and you find yourself making a triple-batch of chocolate chip cookies (not a story from personal experience).
It’s clear that the compounds in cannabis, whether it’s marijuana or hemp, have a profound affect on the hormones in our body: inducing a better night’s sleep, amping up our libido, or calming us down when feeling antsy. It turns out however that cannabis might have more to do with our hunger hormones than just revving up our appetite.
ENDOCRINE SYSTEM & OUR ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
So long ago were the days of health class where we learned about the wonders of our bodies and what goes on inside them. If you can remember, we have a particular system in our bodies that regulates and manages our hormones, feelings, and the way our bodies develop: the endocrine system. The endocrine system is a network of glands and organs that sends signals to other parts of our body to do certain tasks also sends out hormones into our bodies. Major parts of our endocrine system include the hypothalamus, ovaries, testes, thyroid, pancreas, and pituitary gland.
According to Dr. Patricia Frye, MD, “there are approximately 50 different hormones in the body.” The jobs that these hormones do range from a variety of things from signaling other parts of the body to regulating our heart rate. Our hormones manage a long list of things going on in our bodies (metabolism, sleep, reproduction, mood, appetite, sleep cycles, etc. ). Paired with our own endocannabinoid system—another natural regulatory system in our bodies—these two take on a full load of work with our hormones. It is widely believed by scientists that our endocannabinoid system is a primary tool for keep our other systems in balance, in homeostasis. Our endocannabinoid system is made up of endocannabinoids, receptors, and enzymes that all work to help achieve a ‘Goldilocks” standard.
Skipping down memory lane again, you’ll remember the story of “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” and Goldilocks efforts to find the perfect balance; something just right.
Essentially, our endocannabinoid system does this for our bodies. It constantly works to help our bodies maintain homeostasis, so all our systems are working as functionally as possible.
So we have our endocrine system and our endocannabinoid system, two parts that work together to deal out and reign in on our much-loved hormones. How does cannabis come into play? Our endocannabinoid system is what allows us to feel the affects of THC, CBD, CBN, CBG, or THCV (all various cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant). When our endocannabinoid system—also known as ECS—comes into contact with external cannabinoids, the affects of CBD or THC also come into play with our hormones.
Ghrelin is a hormone in our body known as the “hunger hormone”. This hormone ignites your appetite and also deals with managing food intake. Growing evidence is beginning to show how ghrelin and our ECS have a collaborative link together. Both of these systems essentially drive our hunger and how much we can consume. Experts say that they were together synergistically to manage our eating methods. In a 2020 study, published in Nature, researchers found that the ghrelin hormone levels were high after consuming cannabis orally, compared to other methods such as an oil, vaping, or smoking. Our endocannabinoid and our ghrelin receptors also seems to be similarly placed within our brains, in areas associated with metabolism and eating.
Frye says that, “Leptin is secreted by the fat cells and sends signals to the hypothalamus regulating food intake and energy expenditure, helping one maintain their normal body weight…” And guess what? Cannabis also seems to have a big influence on the leptin levels in our body. More research is showing how regular cannabis smokers have lower leptin levels, than non-smokers. Leading to a statistic that cannabis smokers appear to have lower BMIs, body fat percentages, and lower obesity rates.
Frye explains that the more fat you have, the more leptin there is circulating in your body. The leptin is “trying to maintain that fat mass by increasing appetite and decreasing [your] metabolic rate.”
INSULIN & GLUCOSE
As some of us may know, insulin is responsible for managing the glucose levels in our bodies. When our blood is able to circulate the proper amount of insulin, glucose can then be transported into our cells to be used as fuel for maintaining our energy levels.
In the instance of having insufficient insulin levels, meaning that the glucose in our bodies doesn’t get transferred and used for fuel, there then become cases of diabetics who experience hyperglycemia.
Another 2020 study had an experiment made with brownies. There was a placebo brownie and another brownie infused with THC. For those that had the placebo brownie, the results were as expected: insulin levels rose as is typical with that kind of a sugar kick. For the THC brownies however, the rise in blood-insulin levels seemed to have been inhibited by the THC! Further, whether THC was consumed, vaped, or smoked, the insulin levels of those with the THC had considerably lower insulin levels.
“Human trials are lacking but in my clinical experience, it is not uncommon to see patients with Type 2 diabetes whose glucose-lowering medication doses come down after starting CBD,” says Frye. She goes further to say that, “This might be a function of CBD’s anti-inflammatory or stress-relieving effects, or a direct effect on glucose metabolism and/or insulin sensitivity.”
WHERE DOES THIS LEAD US?
As with many studies and researching that goes into CBD and the effects of cannabis, we still have a long way to go. The early stages of testing has such great promise for a multitude of health issues and other common ailments. Cannabis is slowly providing more and more evidence for being a powerhouse of functionality and aid to our bodies. We aren’t saying that cannabis/CBD can fix all your problems, or that you should immediately switch all your medications. It’s always important to talk to your doctor about your opinions on your health and wellness routines.
Regarding cannabis and our hunger, it seems there is much more possible besides just revving up the munchies in us. Who knows what we will learn next about this wonderous plant of cannabis?
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