Furthering the mystery of the cannabis-induced munchies, adults with safe, reliable access to legal recreational-cannabis spend more money on cookies, ice cream, and chips than their counterparts, according to a new study.
Researchers from the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University reviewed high-calorie-food sales-data from states that have legalized cannabis, and a correlation was observed.
The retail-data analysis covered more than 2,000 counties over a period of a decade, from 2006 to 2016. Only states that could provide at least 18 months of sales-data for the period after a legalization amendment was enacted were included in the data review. Purchase trends from grocery, convenience, drug, and mass distribution stores were included in the analysis.
Michele Baggio, assistant professor of economics at the University of Connecticut, partnered with Alberto Chong, a professor at Georgia State University’s Andrew Young School of Policy Studies, to conduct the data review. Most of the data was contributed by the Nielsen Retail Scanner database.
The Data Review
Immediately following legalization, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington reported an increase in the purchase of junk foods, specifically those of cookies, ice cream, and chips, according to the study.
Chip purchases increased by 5.3 percent. Cookie sales grew by 4.1 percent, and a 3.1 percent increase was observed in the sale of ice cream. While cookie sales maintained steady growth, there was a slight dip in ice cream and chip sales for a short time after legalization. Ultimately, an increase was observed overall.
“The increase in sales starts at the time the legislation becomes effective,” according to the study published in the Social Science Research Network.
Legalization amendments were approved by voters in Colorado and Washington state in 2012. The legal retail market in Colorado was first to explode, while the Washington market took a little longer to kick off. In 2015, Oregon joined the ranks of Colorado and Washington in the legalization of recreational cannabis.
“These might seem like small numbers, but they’re statistically significant and economically significant as well,” said Baggio.
The brands which saw the most increase in product sales were not reported in the study.
Originally intending to study the effect of legal cannabis on obesity rates, Baggio and Chong focused only on sales trends this time instead. Baggio said he plans to continue searching for links between legalization and obesity as well as other trends correlating with cannabis policy reform.
“I’m just interested in whether there are unintended consequences to the policy,” he said.
Why does cannabis sometimes stimulate a hunger response?
While the source of cannabis-induced munchies remains mostly a mystery, a 2014 study published in Nature Neuroscience suggests that it begins with an enhanced sense of smell.
According to the study, the sensitivity of receptors in the olfactory bulb of rats and humans increases with the administration of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the most prevalent psychoactive cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. This increased sensitivity to certain smells may translate into an increased craving for certain foods.
While THC is known to stimulate a hunger response, tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is known to illicit the opposite response. Cannabis strains high in THCV are advertised as the go-to phenotypes for those trying to lose weight or at least avoid the munchies.