A wormy case of the munchies

by DGO Staff

Science proves that nematodes also get insatiable hunger from weed, but nobody’s sure why

We’ve all heard of … or more likely experienced … the “munchies” — the insatiable hunger triggered by cannabis consumption, driving you to devour your favorite high-calorie snacks with reckless abandon. No shame. It’s the payoff for getting to ingest the magical cannabis plant. Tis what it is, right?

Right. But in a surprising twist, it turns out that humans aren’t the only ones who get the munchies after a smoke sesh. A recent study published in the journal Current Biology has discovered that cannabinoids can also give nematodes (C. elegans), also known as worms, the munchies!

According to study co-author Shawn Lockery, cannabinoids boost nematodes’ appetite for their preferred foods, while simultaneously reducing interest in less appealing options. This intriguing finding mirrors the effects of marijuana on human appetites.

Despite the 500-million-year evolutionary gap between nematodes and mammals, the impact of cannabinoids on appetite has remained consistent. The study, initially inspired by Oregon’s 2015 cannabis legalization, aimed to investigate how cannabinoids might alter nematode food preferences in relation to the neuronal basis of economic decision-making.

Remarkably, nematodes share more molecular similarities with humans than many other species, prompting researchers to question whether the feeding effects of cannabinoids would extend across different organisms.

Cannabinoids interact with receptor proteins in the brain, nervous system, and other parts of the body. These receptors respond to endocannabinoids, molecules that are already present in the body and play a vital role in numerous functions, such as eating, learning, memory, and reproduction.

The study found that worms exposed to anandamide, an endocannabinoid, increased their consumption of favorite foods. This effect relied on the presence of the worms’ cannabinoid receptors. When researchers genetically replaced the nematode cannabinoid receptor with the human equivalent, the animals still reacted normally to cannabinoids, highlighting the similarity of cannabinoid effects in both species.

According to Lockery, the sensitivity of nematodes’ food-de-testing olfactory neurons changes dramatically upon exposure to cannabinoids. They become more sensitive to favored food odors and less sensitive to non-favored odors. He likens this effect to how THC makes tasty food even more irresistible for humans.

Beyond the amusing notion that worms can experience munchies similar to humans, these findings hold significant practical implications. Lockery explains that cannabinoid signaling is present in most human tissues and could be involved in the cause and treatment of various diseases. This study sets the stage for rapid and cost-effective drug screening targeting cannabinoid signaling and metabolism proteins, with far-reaching consequences for human health.

Future research will explore how cannabinoids alter the sensitivity of nematodes’ olfactory neurons, which lack cannabinoid receptors, as well as potential interactions between psychedelics and nematodes.

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