When you first pull that fresh-baked pizza out of the oven, your taste buds tingle as the wafts of delightful aromas enter your nose and you’re enraptured by the new flavors about to dive into. Don’t worry, you’re not just imagining it because you’re high; rather, your senses are far more acute. Have you ever wondered how this is possible?
Everyone has heard the played out cliché, “everything is better when you’re high.” Well, there is some truth to that in a culinary sense. Marijuana enriches the eating experience by enhancing your senses of taste and smell. New research explains the science behind this wonderful elevation of taste and smell—not just when you consume edibles, but when eating other food too.
The Science Behind Smell and Intake
Nature Neuroscience published a study early last year demonstrating how marijuana affects the intake and sensory experience of food. The study focused on one neurological system found in the human brain: the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in processes such as appetite, pain-sensation, mood and memory and is stimulated by cannabinoids.
They found that cannabinoid type-1 (CB1)—a receptor in the endocannabinoid system activated by plant cannabinoids, such as the compound THC—is responsible for determining food intake. The rest of the main olfactory bulb (MOB), where the endocannabinoid system is predominant, is responsible for odor processing and receptor signaling.
Essentially, the complex system works together in times of hunger to maximize the sensory experience. When activated with THC, these receptors become especially stimulated—superpowered, if you will.
Marijuana contains cannabinol, otherwise known as a metabolite of THC, which produces a psychoactive effect when entering the body. When marijuana is consumed, the endocannabinoid system becomes highly active because it has been exposed to THC (which is normally most potent when smoking or vaporizing it). By stimulating specific receptors, marijuana makes certain senses far more keen.
What This Means for You
In the same Nature Neuroscience study, mice were exposed to THC and then offered a variety of foods. The sober mice became bored of certain scents much more quickly in comparison to when they were exposed to THC and then introduced to the same food. Scientists concluded that the increased activity in the brain caused by THC led to a heightened sensitivity, which in turn caused the mice to develop a larger appetite.
If you're sober and your brain tells you that you are hungry, your sense of smell will become more sensitive because these areas of the brain are related. This sensitivity will diminish as you enjoy a meal and your appetite decreases meaning that the scents you smelt earlier won’t be as prominent as when you started.
This example changes when THC is added to the mixture. As it did for the mice, the heightened and prolonged sensitivity keeps you hungrier for longer. Plus, since smell plays a large role in how things taste, you experience the taste in far more detail. In the earlier example, your hunger may have come and gone after eating, but in this scenario the surrounding fragrance is still sufficient enough to make you feel hungry. In a sense, the THC tricks our brains into thinking we’re still hungry, even if we’ve just finished a big meal. Enter the proverbial munchies.
Marijuana’s psychoactive component, THC, increases activity within the endocannabinoid system, leading to an increased sensitivity in your odor processors. This increase in sensitivity as well as duration allows for a fuller experience when tasting foods. The duration is the leading cause for the additional snacks and/or meals you probably wouldn’t consume if you were sober. It’s this hypersensitivity and overall sensory overload that leads to food tasting so fascinating when you’re high. Bon appétit!