Federally Funded WSU Study Explains Marijuana and Hunger


A new study funded by the US Government via Washington State University (WSU) published findings in the Journal Scientific Reports and then Nature.com titled  Cannabis Sativa targets mediobasal hypothalamic neurons to stimulate appetite by Emma C. Wheeler, Pique Choi, Joanne De Howitt, Sumeen Gill, Shane Watson, Sue Yu, Peyton Wahl, Cecilia Diaz, Claudia Mohr, Amy Zinski, Zhihua Jiang, David Rossi and Jon F. Davis.

The study, revealed how marijuana activates a specific cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus region of the brain that stimulates appetite.

Per the study, it is well established that cannabis sativa promotes appetite, and this realization has guided the development of synthetic compounds to treat anorexia in a range of clinical applications. However, therapies that mimic the pharmacological action of individual phytocannabinoids are not well tolerated and often fail to reliably stimulate feeding. As a result, a disproportionate number of patients with anorexia use cannabis sativa to promote appetite, although remarkably, the neurobiological mechanisms supporting this process remain largely unknown.

The hunger-inducing effects of marijuana have been well-understood by those using it for decades, but now the scientific results of the new research offers insights that could help lead to the development of targeted therapeutics for people with conditions such as anorexia, cancer and or obesity.

In simplified language after test mice were exposed to vaporized cannabis, Washington State University researchers used calcium imaging technology very similar to a brain or full body MRI, to track changes in neuron activity. They found that marijuana vapor attached to cannabinoid-1 receptors in the brain and activated the “feeding” neurons in the hypothalamus called Agouti Related Protein neurons.

To test this hypothesis WSU researchers measured meal patterns, locomotor activity, operant responding, in vivo calcium dynamics of MBH neurons, ex-vivo patch-clamp electrophysiological recordings and conducted chemogenetic manipulations of AgRP neurons in rodents exposed to cannabis vapor.

In accordance with federal law, the Cannabis sativa plant matter used in this study was obtained under federal guidelines with a Drug Enforcement Agency Schedule I drug license from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) via the Research Triangle. The ground whole plant Cannabis sativa used contained 7.8% THC and 0.5% CBD.

Further analysis of meal patterns revealed that cannabis vapor exposure promoted increased meal frequency and reduced meal size throughout the evaluation period, suggesting that inhaled cannabis may provoke motivational components of feeding.

The study concluded, the appetite promoting effects of cannabis sativa have been recognized for centuries however, surprisingly, the biological mechanisms that underlie this process have remained largely unknown. In this regard, our data demonstrate that inhalation of cannabis vapor augments the appetitive phases of feeding behavior as evidenced by an increase in the number of meals consumed, a decrease in meal size and enhanced effort-based responding for palatable food. Notably, these behavioral observations occurred in the absence of reduced locomotor activity, and in the presence of increased energy expenditure.

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