Cannabis triggers hunger neurons in the brain

Cannabis sativa activates hunger neurons in the mediobasal hypothalamus.

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Researchers at Washington State University have uncovered a mechanism in the brain that makes animals hungry after using cannabis. The study, detailed in Scientific Reports, could lead to new treatments for appetite-related issues in cancer patients, those with anorexia, and possibly obesity. 

By exposing mice to cannabis vapor, the researchers observed specific brain cells in the hypothalamus activating when the mice anticipated and consumed tasty food, a response not seen in mice not exposed to cannabis.

Jon Davis, an assistant professor of neuroscience at WSU and corresponding author on the paper, said, “When the mice are given cannabis, neurons come on that typically are not active. There is something important happening in the hypothalamus after vapor cannabis.”

This study builds on earlier research by Davis’ lab, which was one of the first to use whole vaporized cannabis in animal studies, aiming to mimic human cannabis use more accurately than injected THC. Previous work identified genetic changes in the hypothalamus, so this research focused on that area. Funding for the study came from the Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Washington State Initiative Measure No. 171.

In conclusion, the Washington State University study shows that cannabis turns on specific hunger cells in the brain. This happens because of the hypothalamus’s cannabinoid-1 receptor and Agouti Related Protein neurons. 

These discoveries not only help us understand how cannabis affects appetite but also suggest ways to treat appetite issues in different health conditions. The study builds on previous research and got support from various organizations, emphasizing its importance in advancing our understanding of how cannabis impacts hunger in the brain.

Journal reference:

  1. Wheeler, E.C., Choi, P., De Howitt, J. et al. Cannabis Sativa targets mediobasal hypothalamic neurons to stimulate appetite. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-023-50112-5

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