A study conducted at the University of Connecticut has found that recreational use of cannabis led to increased sales of the junk foods biscuits, crisps and ice cream.

Sales of crisps rose in US states that legalised cannabis. Photo: Doug Belshaw

Sales of crisps rose in US states that legalised cannabis. Photo: Doug Belshaw

The purpose of the research was to gauge the effects of the munchies on the rate of obesity. Junk food is partly responsible for an increase here because these products are high in sugar and carbohydrates, while having virtually no nutritional value. If cannabis causes waistlines to grow, policymakers might be less keen on legalisation.

Assistant professor of economics Michele Baggio PhD, working alongside a professor from Georgia State University, conducted the research. They examined the purchases of high-calorie junk food in over 2,000 counties from 2006 to 2016.

Legalisation of cannabis increased junk food sales. There was a rise of 3.1 percent in sales of ice cream, 4.1 percent of biscuits and 5.3 percent of crisps. Baggio is of the opinion that while these numbers appear small, they are significant to the economy: with junk food being such a massive industry, a three percent rise in sales is a major jump.

The junk food industry employs a number of advertising tricks to make its products seem better, particularly now people are shying away from diets high in salt and sugar. Ultra-processed foods are unquestionably a key factor in the rocketing rates of obesity and chronic disease. A study that had more than 9,000 participants was undertaken by the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. It concluded that reducing the amount of ultra-processed foods people consume might be a good way to lessen the excessive intake of added sugars in the United States.

So, why is this?

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is the fun ingredient of cannabis: it gets you stoned. One possible explanation for the munchies is that THC interacts with ghrelin. This is a hormone produced in the stomach that enhances appetite. So THC makes food smell and taste better. It is thought that THC makes your body produce more dopamine, directly causing pleasure, so eating will feel even better.

Synthetic THC has been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of people with HIV, whose appetites are suppressed. This is somewhat behind the times, since cannabis has been used in India to treat loss of appetite since around 300CE. Cannabidiol (CBD), the secondmost prevalent ingredient of cannabis, might have the opposite effect.

Handling the munchies

One way to avoid the munchies is to occupy your stoned brain in other ways, like a film, music, video games or just talking to someone. If that doesn’t work, and you’re struck by the munchies, but you fret over your waistline, blueberries are a fine option. They’re both sweet and very healthy: they contain fibre, potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B6. There are also apples, which keep the doctor away by making cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other nasties less likely. Peanut butter is another option. You could try frozen bananas, although this would require preparation with a food processor. Avocado toast is filling and dead hip.

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