21st October 2019
By Emily Ledger
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A new study has suggested that a lack of sleep can have a similar effect on appetite, as smoking marijuana. Turns out, the ‘munchies’ isn’t just a side effect of Cannabis consumption.

Although the link between sleep patterns and unhealthy food cravings has been studied before, this new study published in eLife, has gone further. Researchers have now found similarities between effects on the brain when a person is sleep deprived, and when a person has consumed Cannabis.

Effect on Endocannabinoid System

It turns out that when you don’t get as much sleep as you need, two important reactions take place in your body. The first, is an increase in a chemical compound known as 2-oleoylglycerol, or (2-OG). This compound is modulated by the Endocannabinoid System (ECS) – the same system which interacts with the cannabinoids found in Cannabis.

This chemical has been seen to have an effect on appetite, by transforming a feeling of fullness, to a feeling of hunger. When the relationship between cannabis and appetite were discovered, many hoped for the development of new drugs. Cannabis has been considered for improving appetite in patients suffering from AIDS, or Cancer.

Despite being known to improve appetite in many cases, Cannabis users are less likely to be obese than non-users. However, the reason for this still isn’t clear.

Effect on Sense of Smell

The second effect, brought on by both a lack of sleep and Cannabis consumption, is a stronger sense of smell. Both can trigger a more sensitive olfactory region – that is the part of the brain which processes odors.

We have all had that uncontrollable sense of hunger when we’ve smelt something tasty in the oven. In fact, scientists have been studying the relationship between smell and appetite for a long time – and this new study supports the theory.

Participants who had experienced a lack of sleep were found to have a more sensitive olfactory region. Through brain imaging, researchers found that sleep-deprived participants reacted more strongly to food odors, than to other odors.

These new findings will be used to explore methods of preventing obesity. It is estimated that one in three people in the US are considered obese. Some research has also suggested that around 29% of UK adults are now obese.

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