Some interesting research from 2009 indicates that the active ingredients in marijuana “act directly on taste receptors on the tongue to enhance sweet taste.”
The results show the likely scientific underpinning for the well-known phenomenon of the pot “munchies.”
“Our taste cells may be more involved in regulating our appetites than we had previously known,” said study author Robert Margolskee, M.D., Ph.D., a molecular biologist with the Monell Center.
The Monell Center, based on Philadelphia, collaborated with Kyushu University in Japan on the research, which looked at the effect that endocannabinoids, present in marijuana, have on taste and appetite regulation in mice.
“Endocannabinoids both act in the brain to increase appetite and also modulate taste receptors on the tongue to increase the response to sweets,” said study senior author Yuzo Ninomiya, Ph.D., professor of oral neuroscience in the Graduate School of Dental Sciences and Kyushu University.
In the study, published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers conducted a series of experiments in mice to determine the behavioral, neural and cellular responses to sweet taste stimuli before and after administration of cannabinoids.
Sweet taste responses were enhanced by endocannabinoids in every case. The effect was specific for sweet taste, as endocannabinoids had no effect on responses to sour, salty, bitter or umami taste stimuli.
“Modulation of sweet taste responses may be an important component of the endocannabinoid system’s role in regulating feeding behavior,” said Dr. Margolskee. He noted that the well-known “marijuana munchies” may depend at least on part on endocannabinoid stimulation of tongue taste cells.
Sweet taste receptors are also found in the intestine and pancreas, where they help control nutrient absorption, insulin secretion and energy metabolism.
If endocannabinoids also modulate the responses of pancreatic and intestinal sweet receptors, the findings may open doors to the development of novel therapeutic compounds to treat metabolic diseases such as obesity and diabetes, according to the researchers.