Yo, what up? Everybody knows that when you smoke up some ganja, you get hit with the munchies, right? You start craving all those tasty, high-calorie foods that you know you shouldn’t be eating. But did you know that the munchies aren’t just for humans? A new study published in the journal Current Biology has found that cannabinoids can give worms the munchies too – specifically, nematodes (C. elegans). Crazy shit, right?
The study was inspired by Oregon’s legalization of cannabis back in 2015. Researchers were examining nematode food preferences when they decided to investigate whether cannabinoids would alter their choices. Turns out, nematodes exposed to anandamide, an endocannabinoid (molecules in the body that bind to cannabinoid receptors), ate more of their favorite foods. The effects were dependent on the presence of the worms’ cannabinoid receptors.
Researchers then replaced the nematode cannabinoid receptor with a human one and found that animals responded normally to cannabinoids. This discovery emphasized the commonality of cannabinoid effects in nematodes and humans – we’re not so different after all.
But wait, there’s more! The study concluded that “administration of THC or endocannabinoids induces hedonic feeding” in mammals (that’s us). Anandamide was shown to alter food consumption and “differentially alter appetitive behavior.” In other words, it makes tasty food even tastier.
Researcher Shawn Lockery explained how this works on a molecular level. Cannabinoids bind to cannabinoid receptor proteins in the brain and nervous system, which respond to endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system is involved in a number of bodily functions such as eating, learning, memory, reproduction and more.
Lockery elaborated, explaining that exposure to cannabinoids alters the sensitivity of one of the main food-detecting olfactory neurons in nematodes. Once exposed, the worm becomes more sensitive to favored food odors and less sensitive to non-favored odors. This helps explain changes in the worm’s consumption of food and is reminiscent of how THC affects human appetites.
But what does this all mean for humans? Lockery explains that cannabinoid signaling is present in most tissues in our body, so it could be involved in the cause and treatment of a wide range of diseases. Drugs that target proteins involved in cannabinoid signaling and metabolism could have profound implications for human health. The fact that the human cannabinoid receptor gene is functional in C. elegans food-choice experiments sets the stage for rapid and inexpensive screening.
There are still questions to explore, such as how cannabinoids change the sensitivity of nematodes’ olfactory neurons, which don’t have cannabinoid receptors. Researchers are also curious about how psychedelics interact with nematodes. But for now, let’s just appreciate the fact that worms can get the munchies too.