25/02/2015 00:50 GMT | Updated 02/03/2015 16:59 GMT

Why Weed Gives You The Munchies, Explained By Neuroscience

Teenage Boy (15-17) Eating Pizza, Close-Up

Getting high tends to make the prospect of a late-night snack (or a second dinner) suddenly very appealing. But why?

According to neuroscientists at Yale School of Medicine, marijuana seems to highjack neurons in the brain that are normally geared toward suppressing appetite.

In a study on mice, the researchers observed how the appetite centers of the brain respond to marijuana -- and what they observed wasn't what they were expecting.

The researchers manipulated brain processes which lead to eating by manipulating pathways that are involved in the way marijuana affects the brain. Then, by observing the way that the brain's appetite centers responded to cannabis, they were able to see what drives the "marijuana munchies."

"It's like pressing a car's brakes and accelerating instead," the study's lead author, Yale neuroscientist Dr. Tamas Horvath, said in a statement. "We were surprised to find that the neurons we thought were responsible for shutting down eating, were suddenly being activated and promoting hunger, even when you are full. It fools the brain's central feeding system."

The activation of these neurons helps to explain why cannabis makes you feel hungry, even when you're not actually hungry. The findings could be beneficial for patients suffering from conditions that may cause appetite suppression, including cancer patients going through chemotherapy. One day, cannabis-based treatments may be used to stimulate appetite in these patients.

Previous research conducted on mice has shed light on some other mechanisms behind marijuana's tendency to increase appetite. A study last year published in the journal Nature Neuroscience suggested that marijuana munchies are the result of a greater sensitivity to smells and flavors.