The link between cannabis consumption and the “munchies” is a pop culture touchstone, now confirmed by sensory science. A recent study by Monell Chemical Senses Center and Kyushu University (Japan) has revealed that endocannabinoids (substances similar to THC, the active ingredient in marijuana) act directly on taste receptors on the tongue to enhance sweet taste. The study involved a series of experiments in mice to determine the behavioral, neural and cellular responses to sweet taste stimuli before and after the administration of endocannabinoids. Findings revealed that in every case, sweet taste responses were enhanced by endocannabinoids; also, the effect was specific for sweet taste, as endocannibinoids had no effect on responses to sour, salty, bitter or umami taste stimuli. The studies further indicated that the CB1 receptor and the T1R3 sweet taste receptor are present in the same taste cells.
According to Yuzo Ninomiya, study senior author and a professor at Kyushu University, endocannabinoids “act in the brain to increase appetite and modulate taste receptors on the tongue to increase the response to sweets.” Of the findings, Robert Margolskee, a molecular biologist at Monell, said, “Our taste cells may be more involved in regulating our appetites than we had previously known. Better understanding of the driving forces for eating and overeating could lead to interventions to stem the burgeoning rise in obesity and related diseases.”