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How Healthy Are You?

Weed Gives Worms The Munchies Too

Research Results May Foster Drug Development

THC in marijuana makes food taste better and tricks the brain into thinking the body is hungry.

By John Salak –

Far out, man. Worms get the munchies too, at least nematode worms. It’s been long known by those who enjoy marijuana and those who study it that ingesting some usually gives people a craving for tasty, high-calorie foods. 

The munchies in people occur because cannabis contains the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which increases a person’s appetite. THC effectively makes food taste better and tricks the brain into thinking the body is hungry—whether it really is or not, GoodRxHealth.com reports. 

Well, for whatever reason, researchers at the University of Oregon wanted to discover if the well-studied nematode worms react the same way. They do. 

“Cannabinoids make nematodes hungrier for their favored foods and less hungry for their non-favored foods,” said Shawn Lockery of Oregon. “Thus, the effects of cannabinoids in nematodes parallel the effects of marijuana on human appetites. “Nematodes diverged from the lineage leading to mammals more than 500 million years ago,” he added. “It is truly remarkable that the effects of cannabinoids on appetite are preserved through this length of evolutionary time.”

Great, but what’s the point other than watching worms get high? Well, since at a molecular level, the cannabinoid system in nematodes looks a lot like that in people and other animals, the researchers wanted to know whether the so-called hedonic feeding effects of cannabinoids would be conserved across species. They discovered that worms not only reacted to the endocannabinoid anandamide by eating more, but they also eat more of their favorite food. The effects of the endocannabinoids ultimately depended on the presence of the worms’ cannabinoid receptors.

 “We found that the sensitivity of one of the main food-detecting olfactory neurons in C. elegans is dramatically altered by cannabinoids,” Lockery said. “Upon cannabinoid exposure, it becomes more sensitive to favored food odors and less sensitive to non-favored food odors. This effect helps explain changes in the worm’s consumption of food, and it is reminiscent of how THC makes tasty food even tastier in humans.”

 There are other, possibly more important benefits that could be derived from these insights as well. 

 “Cannabinoid signaling is present in the majority of tissues in our body,” he added. “It therefore could be involved in the cause and treatment of a wide range of diseases. The fact that the human cannabinoid receptor gene is functional in C. elegans food-choice experiments sets the stage for rapid and inexpensive screening for drugs that target a wide variety of proteins involved in cannabinoid signaling and metabolism, with profound implications for human health.”

The results indicate the study ultimately was more than a feel-good attempt to chill out some nematodes. Of course, there has been no comment yet on whether Oregon’s researchers will follow this work up with probes into whether worms are Dead Heads too. 

 

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