New Study Suggests Worms May Get The Munchies Too

As cool as it sounds, there are also major scientific research implications

The title of the study is hardly a show-stopper: “The conserved endocannabinoid anandamide modulates olfactory sensitivity to induce hedonic feeding.”

But this new research out of the University of Oregon, published on April 20 (coincidence?) in the journal Current Biology, is worth a skim whether you’re science-minded or not. In summary: worms may get the munchies too. Just like you and me.

In their words:

The ability of cannabis to increase food consumption has been known for centuries. In addition to producing hyperphagia, cannabinoids can amplify existing preferences for calorically dense, palatable food sources, a phenomenon called hedonic amplification of feeding. These effects result from the action of plant-derived cannabinoids that mimic endogenous ligands called endocannabinoids. 

The high degree of conservation of cannabinoid signaling at the molecular level across the animal kingdom suggests hedonic feeding may also be widely conserved. Here, we show that exposure of Caenorhabditis elegans to anandamide, an endocannabinoid common to nematodes and mammals, shifts both appetitive and consummatory responses toward nutritionally superior food, an effect analogous to hedonic feeding. 

Furthermore, anandamide has reciprocal effects on appetitive and consummatory responses to food, increasing and decreasing responses to inferior and superior foods, respectively. 

Our findings reveal a surprising degree of functional conservation in the effects of endocannabinoids on hedonic feeding across species and establish a new system to investigate the cellular and molecular basis of endocannabinoid system function in the regulation of food choice.

As the researchers note, “to date, only a small number of studies have examined the effects of cannabinoids on feeding and food preference in invertebrates.” Dare we say we hope this leads to more? There’s a whole lot in their white paper and we’re not exactly sure what it all means, but we like the sound of findings like that there is “a surprising degree of functional conservation in the effects of endocannabinoids on hedonic feeding across species.”

As Shawn Lockery, one of the authors of the study and a professor of biology and neuroscience at the University of Oregon, explained to the Guardian UK about their study which soaked worms in anandamide, an endocannabinoid: “Cannabinoid signalling is present in the majority of tissues in our body. It therefore could be involved in the cause and treatment of a wide range of diseases.”

The researcher added, “We suggest that this increase in existing preference is analogous to eating more of the foods you would crave anyway. It’s like choosing pizza versus oatmeal.”