Even worms get the munchies! Wriggly creatures like to snack on their favorite foods when exposed to cannabis, research shows
- American researchers exposed roundworms to cannabinoids – chemicals in marijuana
- When they felt “high,” worms flocked to their favorite foods and stayed longer
- Other studies show that cannabis makes people hungry – or have “the munchies.”
If you give a worm some weed, it might just need a snack.
That’s because humans aren’t the only species to get “the munchies” when they have cannabis, according to a new study.
Researchers at the University of Oregon exposed roundworms to cannabinoids — chemicals found in marijuana — after it was legalized for recreational use in their state.
They placed the worms in a T-shaped maze, with high-quality bacteria they liked to eat on one side and low-quality bacteria on the other.
Under normal circumstances, the worms preferred a higher quality snack.
Getting the munchies: US experts found that worms like to munch on their favorite foods when exposed to cannabis. This image shows a worm that has been genetically engineered so that certain neurons and muscles are fluorescent. The green dots are neurons that respond to cannabinoids – chemicals found in marijuana, for example
University of Oregon researchers exposed roundworms to cannabinoids (file image)
But once the animals were soaked in anandamide – a molecule made by the body that activates cannabinoid receptors and mimics the feeling of being ‘high’ – the preference for their favorite foods became even stronger.
They flocked to the ‘nicer’ food and stayed there longer.
Neuroscientist Shawn Lockery, lead author of the study, said: ‘We thought, let’s just try this. We thought it would be funny if it worked.
‘Cannabinoids make (worms) hungrier for their favorite foods and less hungry for their non-favorite foods.
“We propose that this increase in existing preference is analogous to eating more of the foods you crave anyway.”
“It’s like choosing pizza versus oatmeal.”
Previous research has shown that cannabis stimulates the area of the brain that regulates feeding behavior and energy balance.
It seems to convince the brain that we are starving, leading to what is scientifically known as “hedonic nutrition” but colloquially referred to as “the munchies.”
When they felt “high,” worms flocked to their favorite foods and stayed longer
“It’s one of the reasons you’re more likely to reach for chocolate pudding after consuming cannabis, but not necessarily crave a salad,” Mr Lockery said.
In follow-up experiments, the researchers found some of the neurons affected by anandamide.
Under the influence, these neurons became more sensitive to the smell of higher quality food and less sensitive to the smell of lower quality food.
Worms and humans last shared a common ancestor more than 600 million years ago, but cannabinoids still influence our food preferences in a similar way, the team added.
The findings were published in the journal Current Biology.
CANNABIS: THE FACTS
Cannabis is an illegal class B drug in the UK, meaning possession can lead to a five-year prison sentence and those supplying the drug could face up to 14 years in prison.
However, the drug is widely used for recreational purposes and can make users feel relaxed and happy.
But smoking can also lead to feelings of panic, fear or paranoia.
Scientific studies have shown that the drug can relieve depression, anxiety and stress, but heavy use can make depression worse in the long run by impairing the brain’s ability to release bad memories.
According to research, it may also contribute to mental health problems in people who already have them, or increase the risk of psychosis or schizophrenia.
Marijuana can be prescribed for medical use in more than half of the US states, where it is used to combat anxiety, aggression and sleeping problems. Researchers are also investigating whether it could help people with autism, eczema or psoriasis.
Cannabis oil containing the psychoactive chemical THC, which is illegal in the UK, is said to have anti-cancer properties, and a 52-year-old woman from Coventry says she recovered from terminal cancer of the colon and stomach by taking the drug.