Whether you’re a new smoker in Las Vegas enjoying Nevada’s recent legalization, a nine-to-fiver who prefers a post-work puff over a glass of vino or your hood’s token toker on the SoCal coast, the pleasure of stuffing your mouth with artificially flavored junk food after smoking a joint is a universal part of getting high. Gummy bears, brownies, a McDonald’s double cheeseburger, Pizza Hut’s pepperoni pizza, peanut butter straight from the jar, raw cookie dough—when you’re stoned, it seems the less healthy the food, the better it tastes. At a certain point it becomes impossible to avoid asking yourself, Is getting high worth all the extra calories?
This question recently came up during a conversation with JeffThe420Chef, an expert on cooking with cannabis whose book, The 420 Gourmet, breaks down everything from proper dosages for various recipes to cooking up the perfect cannabis butter. We had been discussing his method for removing chlorophyll’s plant-like taste from edibles when he mentioned a hunger-suppressing strain of cannabis. According to Jeff, weed can “help increase appetite—or the opposite.”
Jeff then shared the story of his friend who lost 40 pounds by medicating with rare strains of cannabis containing higher-than-usual percentages of cannabinoid called Tetrahydrocannabivarin, or THCv, which is belived to be an appetite suppressant. All Jeff’s friend had to do was dress his salad with a high-THCv-weed-infused oil and he would forget about food all day. “If you learn to understand the different nuances of the diverse strains of cannabis, you can use it to medicate for a whole array of conditions,” Jeff tells Playboy.”
Dubbed “diet weed,” THCv—and the commodification of it—is set to become the next big trend in the marijuana industry, which brought in $1.3 billion in sales in Colorado in 2016 alone. Earlier this year, Forbes reported on a Florida biotech company called Teewinot Life Sciences that’s manufacturing THCv in a lab for commercial uses, as the compound occurs naturally only in limited amounts. “We produce the same cannabinoid, just replicated outside the plant. It is identical in every way,” Teewinot’s CEO told Forbes. Meanwhile, in Santa Rosa, California, a cannabis-testing laboratory called Pure Analytics is working to isolate strains with high levels of THCv versus manufacturing it. And earlier this year, adult website Suicide Girls released a THCv-infused hybrid cartridge called Zero with the tagline "Zero lets me smoke without getting the munchies, helping me stay lean.”
The majority of high-TCHv strains can be traced back to landraces in South and East Africa. So far, ACDC, Harlequin, Durban Poison, Super Silver Haze, Doug’s Varin, Pink Boost Goddess, Jack the Ripper, Dutch Treat, Skunk #1 and Willie Nelson are the most well known. But is diet weed the real deal, or will it soon just become another “magic drug” companies market as a shortcut to weight loss and peddle in the form of a high-priced supplement? Reviewing the Zero, Leafly’s Ashley Manta wrote, “[T]his is one of the few cannabis products I’ve tried that doesn’t leave me wanting to devour the refrigerator.” But the answer to whether such effects are universal—and thus, whether diet weed has the potential to become the next big diet fad—lies in the complex chemical reactions that unfold in your body after you take a puff.
There are a few theories that attempt to explain why consuming cannabis causes insatiable hunger. Pot contains a huge range of different compounds—including the most famous cannabinoid, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—and all of them have different effects on the body and the brain. According to Perry Solomon, chief medical officer at online medical marijuana consultation site HelloMD, “Studies seem to indicate that cannabis interferes with the cannabinoid receptors in the brain that can affect appetite.“
A 2015 study concluded that cannabis can stimulate the secretion of a chemical in the brain that controls appetite, thereby increasing one’s cravings. But Max Simon, founder of the cannabis-education platform Green Flower Media, suggests another popular theory: that THC stimulates cannabinoid receptors on your tongue, not in your brain. That reframes the cause of munchies. Instead of getting hungrier while high, certain foods just taste better. If that theory is in fact true, it begs the question whether we can then use cannabis as a stimulus to eating healthier foods.
Researchers agree that THC is what motivates the munchies.
Samantha Miller is the chief scientist of Pure Analytics, located about 60 miles north of San Francisco. In November, California legalized recreational marijuana. Over the past couple of years, Miller has noticed an increase in the number of people calling her to ask about diet weed and where to get it. "THCv is a rare compound, similar in structure to THC, but a little different. The small variances [between THC and THCv] are thought to make a big difference in the effects of cannabis,” she tells Playboy. "Research performed on rats suggests that when THCv is present in greater-than-normal amounts, the duration of the overall experience is shorter and the normal effect of the ‘having the munchies’ is significantly lessened,” she says.
In other words, the key to developing a strain of diet weed may be achieving the perfect chemical balance of THC and THCv. According to Miller, Pure Analytics has already isolated two versions of cannabis containing about 50 times the “normal” amount of THCv.
If the theory that cannabinoids simply make food taste better (versus making you hungrier), Simon says developing a “weed diet” would be simple. “Cannabis can make eating healthier a lot more enjoyable,” he says. Instead of eating “disgusting snack foods that make you fat,” you can enjoy a healthy treat when the munchies kick in—a routine Simon himself has adopted.
The form of consumption can also play a role. “I’ve tried every cannabis product that exists and I’ve realized that smoking does stimulate more of that 'dry mouth sensation,’ which in turn makes you much more aware of your mouth, which in turn psychologically makes you want to eat more,” he says. “If you vaporize cannabis or eat edibles, you actually don’t have that same kind of munchies experience.”
While more research into the relationship between THC, THCv and the munchies is needed, this much is true: You don’t need to smoke high-THCv strains to avoid gorging yourself into a vortex of self-loathing. Given that researchers agree that THC is what motivates the munchies in the first place, strains with higher CBD-to-THC ratios will cause substantially fewer cravings. “There always seems to be talk of a new strain or product that helps you enjoy cannabis without getting the munchies,” says famed cannabis activist and entrepreneur Jane West, “but my personal experience is that mindfully incorporating cannabis into my life in a way that makes exercise and healthy eating more fun is what has allowed me to maintain a consistently healthy weight. When I became a cannabis consumer and started incorporating the right strains for me into my workouts, I was finally able to stay healthy and fit—without boot camps and fad diets.”