Whether or not you've smoked pot, you've probably heard of all the punchlines about stoners and munchies - an intense hunger that seems to only be satisfied by pizza, potato chips, cookies, and any variation of processed, unhealthy junk food. And by that logic, regular marijuana use should make you fat, right?
But this is just another misconception about smoking marijuana. Many smokers swear that smoking weed has helped them lose weight despite consuming more calories.
Medical marijuana has generated a significant amount of buzz over the past several years for its ability to treat a variety of conditions, ranging from muscle spasms, nausea, epilepsy, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, to chronic pain caused by chemotherapy. The recognition and acceptance of the plant’s therapeutic effects have resulted in a growing number of states in the United States legalizing its medical usage and in some states, its recreational usage. But the people who use cannabis medicinally for the management of chronic pain often face the "Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome."
One of the more recently discovered results of medical cannabis use is lower body weight. And while marijuana use may be associated with a reduction in the BMI (body mass index), their relationship is not as straightforward as it sounds.
So how does this work, can marijuana really help you lose weight despite the overwhelming craving for munchies after a smoke session?
What Does Research Say?
A lot of the noise around smoking weed for weight loss comes from a 2011 study of two surveys. The surveys included over 50,000 respondents. The research concluded that the rates of obesity dropped to around 16.1% among people who used marijuana at least three times a week for the past 12 months as compared to those who did not. These differences were not observed when accounting for tobacco usage. The same studies noted that the decline in weight among the participants increased with the frequency of marijuana use. This is despite several clinical trials and pieces of evidence showing that the plant stimulated appetite, resulting in increased caloric intake.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, these two studies were not the only ones who came out with these bizarre results. Several other studies examining the association between marijuana and obesity drew similar conclusions.
One such research, published in the National Library of Medicine in 2010, focused on young adults and concluded that those who used cannabis were less likely to be categorized in the overweight/obese group. People who regularly partake in marijuana are actually less likely to be overweight or obese compared to those who don't, according to a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology.
Most recently, a meta-analysis study of the relationship between cannabis use and body mass index (BMI) showed that cannabis users had significantly lower BMIs and obesity rates but an increased calorie intake. Another study examining the association between cannabis and obesity in young people made similar conclusions.
Furthermore, everyday cannabis users showed the least prevalence of obesity with an odds ratio of only 0.2%. And yet another study conducted in 2005 and published in the Journal of Addictive Diseases revealed the same results. Other studies across different countries, like Italy, Poland, Hungary, and Canada, have replicated these findings.
However, marijuana doesn't lead to weight loss directly. So you might not want to cancel that gym subscription.
Marijuana and Its Metabolism
To understand the relationship between marijuana and weight loss, we need to understand a few factors - how our endocannabinoid system works and how marijuana interacts with this complex bodily system.
The human body's endocannabinoid system. This cell-signaling biological system influences and modulates a lot of our important biological functions and processes, including memory, mood, sleep, immune system responses, appetite and digestion, fertility, and metabolism, among others. Despite the endocannabinoid system's integral role in our bodily functions, it is a very complicated system and it was not only until relatively recently that scientists have understood much of its potential functions and importance.
The endocannabinoid system has two main receptors - the CB1 receptors, mostly found in the nervous system, and the CB2 receptors, mostly found in the peripheral nervous system.
Effects of marijuana on the endocannabinoid system. THC or tetrahydrocannabinol, marijuana's most popular cannabinoid, is the compound that causes people to be "high." Once inside the human body, THC is also known to interact with both the CB1 and CB2 receptors in our endocannabinoid system. The THC compounds that bind to the CB1 receptors have been observed to calm them down. So, while marijuana does trigger an initial short-term up-regulation, triggering the release of hormones that result in the munchies, it switches to a long-term down-regulation behaviour on the receptors. This means that marijuana users, regardless of factors like age and gender and reason for cannabis intake, experience an increase and a more efficient burning and storage of calories. Thus, several researchers have concluded that cannabis users enjoy trimmer waistlines and lower BMI than non-users.
Following chronic marijuana consumption, recently abstinent users may even continue to experience weight loss and metabolic benefits until their CB1 receptors return to pre-cannabis levels. This theory is well-supported as one of the most popular symptoms of marijuana withdrawal, as listed in the American Psychiatric Association's manual, is weight loss.
With a deeper understanding of the significance of the endocannabinoid system and how the cannabis compound THC interacts with it, researchers were able to set out and propose a novel theory on how marijuana use can affect our metabolism and weight loss.
Aside from THC, other cannabinoids such as the THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) and CBD (cannabidiol) have also been shown to help trim waistlines over time. More clinical trials and research, however, need to be conducted to better understand the role of these compounds on weight loss.
Indirect Effects of Smoking Pot That May Contribute To Weight Loss
THC Might Be Blamed
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that causes people to feel high, causes changes in the gut microbiome that helps regulate weight loss and digestion.
Researchers at the University of Calgary examined obese mice and mice at a regular weight, both of which were given THC daily. The researchers found that while THC did not have any effect on the size of the mice who were already at a regular weight, it did cause the obese mice to lose weight. The researchers hypothesized that this was because THC caused changes in the gut microbiome that helped regulate weight loss and digestion.
It Can Increase Mobility
When used properly, marijuana may relieve symptoms of pain and stiffness. This means people with mobility issues may find that they can be more active when using marijuana.
It Can Lower Stress
The stress hormone Cortisol is known for hindering weight loss efforts. Reducing stress by using cannabis can lower chronic Cortisol levels and boost weight loss efforts. Stress eating is a real thing, too. Studies show that people are more likely to overeat and reach for comfort foods when stressed.
It's no secret that weed can ease anxiety and help calm you when you're feeling stressed. Some believe that this might replace stress eating for some people.
It May Cause Some People To Drink Less
Some experts suspect that younger people who use marijuana may consume less alcohol than those who don't. This means they're not taking in calories from alcoholic drinks, which could contribute to lower BMIs. The benefits occurred because marijuana acted as a substitute for a considerably more dangerous and calorie-rich drug, alcohol.
These people who choose to substitute marijuana for alcohol, are trying to stop drinking. This controversial practice is known as marijuana maintenance.
Alcohol plays a major role in gaining weight. It stops your body from burning fat and is high in kilojoules. It also leads to greater hunger and less satiety (the feeling of being full) causing poor food choices. Cutting back on alcohol may reduce these chances of gaining weight and help reduce weight.
It May Improve Sleep
Poor sleep can be a factor in weight gain. There's some evidence that cannabis may improve insomnia. Plus, it may help reduce stress and pain, two of the main culprits behind poor sleep.
As is evident, using marijuana doesn't cause sudden or direct weight loss. But experts believe it may help with some underlying factors like these that can contribute to weight loss in some people.
The Munchies Add up
How can people be eating more and losing weight while smoking weed? Researchers are still trying to figure out the specifics, but a balancing act between two major cannabinoids in marijuana might offer some explanation.
THC, the psychoactive compound that produces weed's "high," has been appeared to trigger hunger. It's the reason why people sometimes use cannabis as a craving stimulant.
CBD, on the other hand, seems to counteract certain effects of THC, including its appetite-boosting and mood-altering effects.
Even though there's some evidence that smoking weed may affect weight, a lot more research is needed.
Pro-tip: Since there's no evidence suggesting weed will help you with your physique goals the best way is to follow your diet schedule and exercise!!