Unraveling The Munchies: researchers test what kinds of food stoners are drawn to when high

Unraveling The Munchies: researchers test what kinds of food stoners are drawn to when high

To eat an orange or some chips? That is the question.

VicesMay 01, 2019 By Will Brendza

You just smoked a fat bowl — maybe two. You’re chillin’, unwinding at the end of a long day, enjoying a good movie, hanging out and livin’ life. But then you realize: something’s wrong. There’s a double-extra-large pizza box on the table that was full just a minute ago, and you’re already halfway through a Costco-sized bag of Doritos you don’t remember buying. You aren’t hungry anymore. You weren’t even that hungry in the first place. And still, your hand moves with a life all its own; reaching into the bag, extracting a fistful of chips and cramming them into your face, over and over. You watch in horror, unable to stop yourself, unable to control your inexplicable, insatiable appetite.

It’s a tale as old as time. Any stoner (or even casual marijuana user) will tell you that the munchies are no joke — even if they are kind of funny.

But we don’t really know much about them, scientifically speaking. There have been some theories floated, that claim marijuana makes food smell better and that’s why we eat more, but there really isn’t a widely accepted explanation for what exactly about marijuana makes people want to munch so hard. It’s one of the great unexplored mysteries of pot.

That’s why a team of researchers from the University of Buffalo went to a cannabis decriminalization event to survey as many marijuana users as they could. They wanted to learn more about the mysteries of the “munchies” — specifically, they wanted to know what kinds of food people crave when they are in the throes of a marijuana-induced-snacking-binge.

“Given the dramatic increase in the accessibility of cannabis, there will be many more people experiencing the munchies,” Jessica Kruger, lead author of the study, published in the journal of the International Society for Human Ethology, said in a press release.

So, Jessica Kruger and her partner went to a local cannabis event and started handing out surveys. Which, among other questions, asked:

  • “How high are you right now?”
  • “What do you typically eat when you’re on marijuana?”
  • “How much more or less do you eat when you are high on marijuana, compared to other times?”

When the survey respondents finished answering the questions, they were allowed to choose their reward: an orange or a bag of potato chips.

Go ahead. Guess which one was the more popular option…

Out of the 275 people surveyed, nearly two thirds (61 percent) picked the chips. 32 percent went for the orange, and an astounding 7 percent of those who were surveyed chose neither snack.

These results point to an important and insofar unresearched aspect of the munchies: generally speaking, they don’t compel us to gorge on the healthiest of snacks. They drive us to the candy, to the pizza, to the chips and dip, hell, when things get really bad and there isn’t much food around, the munchies will drive people to do some truly savage things. I’ve seen people dipping cured sausage slices in peanut butter. I’ve seen people slather ketchup and mayo over toasted cinnamon raisin bagels.

And usually it’s because they’re avoiding the fruit and veggies in the fridge.

That seems like an intuitive thing to “discover,” but it’s an intuition that’s now statistically supported. And it’s very interesting. Why do marijuana munchies make us hungry for the most nutritionally impotent snack foods? Why doesn’t it inflict us with a hunger for kale and black bean salads?

That’s a question for another day and probably for another group of scientists entirely. As for Jessica and Daniel Kruger, the study authors from University of Buffalo, they’re more focused on what we can do with this curious observation in-and-of itself.

"Public health has the responsibility of protecting the public, maximizing benefits and minimizing harm in any area," Jessica Kruger said. “We need more research and education on people who choose to use cannabis, moving public health from an abstinence-promotion model to a harm reduction model. This would include managing the dietary impact of cannabis use.”

We need to educate the masses! We need to coach them in the path of the stoner. Inform them as to the dangers they’ll encounter along the way and instruct the Padawan on how to deal with their snacky urges: eat before you smoke; smoke strains that will make you less hungry; don’t keep unhealthy snacks around if you’re prone to munch; exercise self-discipline!

Weed smoking 101. How to burn, for beginners. School of toke. Something like that.

Anyway, this is good research to keep in mind the next time you find yourself staring, bleary eyed and bleary minded into your kitchen cupboard. Be self-aware of your choices. Understand that there’s a marijuana monster inside you, that wants you to go for the chips instead of the oranges. You don’t have to listen to it, though.

Or, you can. Let that gluttonous beast out, sit back and enjoy the ride. Just remember who to blame when you're laying in bed so full you can't sleep.