It’s not exactly a secret that marijuana causes the munchies (see: Half Baked). Marijuana aka cannabis contains what are called endocannabinoids (see the resemblance?), which are neuromodulators that your brain uses to regulate feeding. But marijuana isn’t the only thing that contains endocannabinoids; vegetable oil does too:
If what happens in people mirrors what happens in animals, then the prevalence of soybean oil, corn oil and other polyunsaturated vegetable oils in today’s Western diet means your body is “dumping out a lot of these marijuana-like molecules into your brain,” explains Hibbeln, a nutritional neuroscientist. “You’re chronically a little bit stoned.”
Vegetable oil’s link to endocannabinoids is just one example of newfound and surprising ways that foods can confuse calorie-sensing networks and foster obesity — in some cases by damaging the brain. Especially troubling: Excess body weight itself can exaggerate the risk of the brain telling a well-fueled body that it is running on empty.
Deciding whether to eat or not eat seems like a pretty fundamental decision, no? But decisions aren’t made in some platonic void, they’re contextual and dependent on our environment. Hence, if your environment contains a lot of vegetable oils, well, you’re going to be making different decisions than if it didn’t. What’s great about this research is that it explains how the neural pathway is modified by the environment, and which receptors are mediating this interaction with the environment. But mostly, how the environment causes the munchies.