MAR 06, 2019 4:59 PM PST

Guess What? Marijuana Really Does Cause the "Munchies"!

WRITTEN BY: Amy Loriaux

Before you say "duh", take a moment to put yourself in a scientist's shoes. In modern scientific parlance, the phrase "data or it didn't happen" (borrowed from the common social media phrase) means a lot. If there is no data to support it, then the sky cannot be declared to be blue; rain may not come from clouds; and other various "obvious" observations cannot be claimed to be absolutely true. While these examples are a bit frivolous, it can really help cut through various psychological heuristics, like correlation equals causation, which has led to the autism/vaccine debate. So it can be beneficial to actually test certain assumptions, just to make doubly sure, that they are indeed true.  

Photo source: PixaBay.com

So before you say "duh" (again), you should hear about the latest study conducted by Drs. Michele Baggio and Alberto Chong out of the University of Connecticut. Because, as mentioned above, scientists need to study every assumption about our world, the authors aimed their microscope at the assumption that smoking weed causes the "munchies", or, in their words, "consumption of high-calorie food". In other words, junk food.

But these scientists went about their study in a very peculiar way. They didn't use knock-out mice or fancy fMRI imaging. They just looked at retail scanner data of monthly purchases of products in grocery, convenience, drug, or mass distribution stores in over two thousand U.S. counties over the period 2006-2016. This allowed the researchers to use a longitudinal approach (i.e. watching things change over time) and compare junk food (e.g. ice cream, cookies, and chips) purchases across time. And, as you may have already guessed, purchases of junk food went up just as recreational weed became legal.

Now there are experimental data from animal studies that have looked into the mechanisms by which marijuana increases appetite. Yet the assumption that this really occurs in humans after ingesting cannabis has never really been put to the test. In fact, the authors claim that there is no "formal causal evidence that may help support any actual behavioral change". Well, after comparing junk food sales across time in tune with the passage of recreational marijuana laws, the researchers found that junk food sales did significantly increase at about 5% for ice cream, 6% for cookies, and 6.6% for chips, respectively. 

Photo source: PixaBay.com

It is important to separate fact from fiction, especially in an age of memes and 15 second sound bites. The myth that marijuana causes the munchies may have been validated by this study. So, while this sounds like a fluff piece, it is illustrative of how science really adheres to the creed summed up in the phrase "data or it didn't happen". Remember, it used to be assumed that the sun revolves around the earth, the earth is 6,000 years old, and bloodletting is an accepted medical practice. So thank scientists for "proving what everybody else knows to be true" because sometimes they show that they are not.

SourcesSSRN, Nature

About the Author
  • I currently work at a small CRO involved in clinical trial management.
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