Even worms get a little hungry from marijuana use

Even worms get a little hungry from marijuana use

New study published in the journal Current biology showed that a well-studied nematode worm, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans), responds to cannabinoids and marijuana in surprisingly similar ways to humans.

“Cannabinoids make nematodes more hungry for their favorite food and less hungry for food they don’t like,” said Sean Lockery of the University of Oregon. “Thus, the effect of cannabinoids on nematodes is similar to the effect of marijuana on human appetite.

“Nematodes diverged from the mammalian lineage over 500 million years ago. It is truly remarkable that the influence of cannabinoids on appetite persists throughout this evolutionary period.

In 2015, when cannabis became legal in Oregon, Lockery came up with the idea to do this new study. “At that time, our lab at the University of Oregon was actively assessing nematode food preferences as part of our study of the neural basis of economic decision making. »

“As part of the ‘Friday afternoon experiment’ — read: ‘let’s drop this thing and see what happens’ — we decided to see if soaking worms in cannabinoids would change existing eating habits. So it is, and this article is the result of many years of research.

Why marijuana stimulates appetite

People commonly associate marijuana or cannabis use with appetite stimulation and cravings for tasty, high-calorie foods. This phenomenon is colloquially known as “food cravings”. This study explores the molecular mechanisms behind these effects and uncovers intriguing similarities between nematodes and humans.

The active compounds found in cannabis are cannabinoids. Cannabinoids exert their effects by binding to specific proteins called cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are present in the brain, nervous system, and other parts of the body. They usually react to endocannabinoids, molecules naturally present in the body. The endocannabinoid system plays a critical role in various physiological processes, including eating, anxiety, learning, memory, reproduction, and metabolism.

The apparent similarity between the cannabinoid system of nematodes and humans and other animals at the molecular level has intrigued researchers. The researchers sought to determine whether the hedonic dietary effects of cannabinoids and marijuana use persist across species.

What We Learned from the Study of Marijuana Use

The study showed for the first time that worms exposed to the endocannabinoid anandamide consumed more food. They also gave preference to their favorite dish. These effects depended on the presence of cannabinoid receptors in the worms.

In a series of subsequent experiments, the scientists genetically replaced the cannabinoid receptor in C. elegans with the human cannabinoid receptor. This allowed the worms to respond normally to cannabinoids.

“We found that cannabinoids significantly altered the sensitivity of one of the main food-sensing olfactory neurons in C. elegans,” Lockery said. “When exposed to cannabinoids, it becomes more sensitive to preferred food odors and less sensitive to unwanted food odors. This effect helps explain changes in the worm’s food intake and is reminiscent of how THC makes delicious food taste even better in humans.

This discovery highlights the remarkable commonality between the effects of cannabinoid and marijuana use in nematodes and humans. The researchers also found that the action of anandamide depends on the neurons involved in the perception of food.

“Cannabinoid signaling is present in most tissues in our body,” Lockery said. “So it could be related to the cause and treatment of a wide range of diseases. The fact that the human cannabinoid receptor gene functions in C. elegans food selection experiments paves the way for rapid and low-cost drug screening that targets a wide range of proteins involved in cannabinoid signaling and metabolism, with significant implications for human health.

Practical implications of this research

According to Lockery, these worm discoveries are not only interesting, but also of great practical importance.

“Cannabinoid signaling is present in most tissues in our body,” he said. “So it could be related to the cause and treatment of a wide range of diseases. The fact that the human cannabinoid receptor gene functions in C. elegans food selection experiments paves the way for rapid and low-cost drug screening that targets a wide range of proteins involved in cannabinoid signaling and metabolism, with significant implications for human health.

However, researchers acknowledge that many questions remain unanswered. How do cannabinoids change the sensitivity of olfactory neurons in C. elegans, which lack cannabinoid receptors? They also want to study the effects of psychedelics on hookworms.

“Perhaps we can find a new set of similarities between humans and worms, now in the case of drugs that alter perception and psychological well-being,” Lockery said.

This groundbreaking study offers valuable insight into the molecular mechanisms of action of cannabinoids associated with marijuana use. It also paves the way for further exploration of the exciting parallels between nematodes and humans.

Learn more about marijuana

The cannabis plant is the source of cannabis, also known as marijuana, which is a psychoactive drug. It contains over 100 active compounds called cannabinoids, the two most important of which are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).

THC is responsible for the intoxicating effects or “high” associated with marijuana use. CBD is not intoxicating and is known for its therapeutic properties.

People primarily attribute marijuana’s appetite-stimulating effects, commonly referred to as “craving”, to THC. When people use marijuana, THC interacts with the endocannabinoid system. It is a complex cellular signaling system that plays a crucial role in various physiological processes. These include appetite regulation, pain sensation, mood, memory, and immune response.

The endocannabinoid system includes endocannabinoids (natural compounds in the body), enzymes, and receptors such as CB1 and CB2 receptors.

THC binds to CB1 receptors. They are mainly found in the brain and central nervous system. This binding leads to a cascade of events that promote appetite stimulation:

Increase in appetite-inducing hormones

THC stimulates the release of ghrelin, an appetite-enhancing hormone. It also affects other appetite regulating hormones such as leptin and the YY peptide.

Improved sensory perception after marijuana use

THC can enhance the sense of taste and smell, making food more appealing and enjoyable. This increased sensory perception may contribute to increased appetite and food intake.

Activation of the bonus system

THC activates the brain’s reward system by increasing the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of pleasure and motivation. This increase in dopamine makes eating more enjoyable and rewarding, resulting in increased food intake.

Modulation of inhibitory signals from marijuana use

THC can also modulate the neural circuits that suppress appetite, effectively reducing inhibitory signals that would otherwise restrict food intake.

While the appetite-stimulating effects of marijuana are well known, the underlying mechanisms are complex. Researchers don’t fully understand them yet. Research is ongoing to better understand these mechanisms and explore potential therapeutic applications. These include the treatment of loss of appetite in patients with chronic diseases, cancer, or eating disorders.

Learn more about nematode worms

Nematode worms, also known as roundworms, are a diverse group of non-segmented microscopic worms belonging to the Nematoda phylum. Over 25,000 described species live in a variety of environments, including soil, water, plants, and animals.

Among nematodes, Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) is a well-studied model organism. He made significant contributions to the understanding of various biological processes.

Some key characteristics and facts about nematode worms include:

Size and morphology

Nematodes are usually very small, ranging from less than a millimeter to several centimeters in length. They have a simple body structure with a cylindrical, elongated, non-segmented body covered by a strong protective cuticle.


Nematodes play an important role in various ecosystems, acting as decomposers, predators or parasites. Microorganisms can help recycle soil nutrients and regulate pest populations. They also serve as bioindicators for assessing soil health and quality.

model organism

C. elegans is a free-living, soil-dwelling nematode. Researchers widely use it as a model organism in biological research. This is due to its simplicity, transparency, short life cycle, and ease of genetic manipulation. Research on C. elegans has led to substantial understanding of genetics, development, aging, neuroscience, and cell biology.

Parasitic nematodes

Some types of nematodes parasitize and infect plants, animals and humans, causing various diseases. In humans, parasitic roundworms can cause conditions such as ascariasis, hookworm, trichinosis, and filariasis.

genetic diversity

Nematodes show significant genetic diversity, allowing them to adapt and survive in a wide variety of environments. Their genomic complexity varies greatly between species, with some nematodes having more genes than humans.


Nematodes can reproduce both sexually and asexually. C. elegans, for example, has two sexes: hermaphrodites and males. Hermaphrodites can reproduce by self-fertilization, and males can mate with hermaphrodites to cross-fertilize.

Nematode worms, despite their small size and simplicity, have made significant contributions to our understanding of biological processes. They continue to be valuable in various areas of research such as genetics, developmental biology and neuroscience.

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