Due to CBD's link with the cannabis plant, the first thing people tend to think about when it comes to CBD and appetite is the "munchies". Anecdotal reports on the effects of CBD on appetite are also varied, making it unclear exactly what is going on. In this article, we’ll explore whether CBD works as an appetite stimulant, suppressant, or something more complex.
Cannabis contains over 400 different active compounds, dozens of which are cannabinoids. The two most prominent cannabinoids in cannabis are THC and CBD. The former is the main intoxicating compound found in marijuana and delivers its effects by binding directly with CB1 cannabinoid receptors in the brain and body.
CBD, on the other hand, is a non-intoxicating compound that has little affinity for CB1 and CB2 receptors. Instead, CBD works by activating over 60 different molecular pathways, which is what gives it the potential to have such varied effects.
The appetite-stimulating effects we associate with cannabis are caused by THC. While we still don’t completely understand how THC has such potent hunger-inducing prowess, research suggests that THC increases the production of ghrelin (a hormone that encourages us to seek out food) when it binds to CB1 receptors.
Because CBD doesn’t bind to CB1 receptors, it doesn’t have the same appetite-stimulating effects. However, CBD can affect our appetite in indirect ways.
The endocannabinoid system is a complex regulatory system that mediates a wide variety of bodily processes, including those related to appetite, nausea, and metabolism.
Now, our understanding of the endocannabinoid system is still in its infancy. It was only in the 1940s that THC was first discovered, and only years later did researchers learn that humans actually produce their own cannabinoids and have an endocannabinoid system.
Today, we know that activating CB1 receptors increases hunger while blocking this receptor can reduce appetite. We also know that the endocannabinoid system affects neurotransmitter signalling (such as dopamine) and can thereby affect our reward system and the desire to eat.
Research shows that CBD can affect neurotransmitters like serotonin, which also play an important role in regulating appetite and nausea.
In 2012, The British Journal of Pharmacology published a study looking at the effects of CBD on nausea and appetite. The study was conducted on lab rats and shrews who were given different compounds like nicotine, lithium chloride, and cisplatin to induce nausea and vomiting. Results showed that giving the animals CBD reduced the symptoms of nausea and vomiting (like conditioned gaping) induced by all of these substances.
In order to better understand these effects, the researchers gave the animals a substance that blocked serotonin receptors in the dorsal raphe nucleus, a part of the brainstem that plays an important role in managing nausea and vomiting. Blocking these receptors reversed the effects of CBD, suggesting that CBD affects nausea and vomiting by activating these serotonin receptors.
Another study published in the same journal a year later showed that CBDA, the acidic precursor to CBD, had similar effects and an even higher affinity for serotonin receptors. Therefore, research suggests that CBD and CBDA may boost appetite indirectly by reducing nausea.
However, other research argues that CBD could also work as an appetite suppressant—for example, by blocking CB1 receptors. A 2012 study published in the journal of Psychopharmacology tested the effects of CBD on the eating patterns of rats. The study found that CBD greatly reduced the amount of food the animals consumed, while CBN (cannabinol) increased feeding.
Research also suggests that CBD can help calm inflammation-related problems throughout the GI tract. A 2011 study published in PLOS One found that CBD could reduce intestinal inflammation. Other research theorises that CBD initiates these effects by activating TPRV (or vanilloid) receptors in the GI tract. These receptors play a very central role in inflammatory processes as well as pain signalling, both of which are linked to appetite.
CBD is a very complex compound, and the endocannabinoid system is equally complex. Unfortunately, our understanding of both is really still in its infancy.
What we do know, however, is that CBD doesn’t bind to CB1 receptors like THC, meaning it won’t induce hunger in the same way or cause the "munchies". Nonetheless, research suggests that CBD may still affect appetite, but in much more indirect ways, such as by relieving nausea, inflammation, and more.
On the other hand, there is some research arguing that CBD can work as an appetite suppressant. For now, it’s important to realise that our relationship with food is just as emotional as it is physical, and that CBD might affect appetite differently in different people.