If you’ve seen the movies “Pineapple Express,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” or “Dazed and Confused,” you know popular culture doesn’t exactly portray cannabis consumers fairly. Each stoner character is lazy and scatterbrained with a penchant for pigging out on junk food.
One of the most dramatized aspects of cannabis is its ability to induce the munchies—the kind that adds inches to your waistline. While it’s true that marijuana can stimulate appetite, which is a major benefit for those dealing with appetite loss from chemotherapy or wasting syndrome (cachexia), the idea that every puff of marijuana can send you into an hours-long eating binge is simply not accurate.
In fact, some of the more recent scientific explorations on cannabis and weight gain show the exact opposite relationship than many may expect. These studies show that:
If you’ve done even the most basic research on cannabis, you’ve probably heard of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the cannabinoid responsible for making people feel high. But THC’s psychoactive effects aren’t the only notable feature of this chemical compound. In one study, researchers concluded that orally ingested THC reduced weight gain in mice eating a high-fat diet. But THC isn’t the only cannabinoid that can help with weight-loss goals.
The cannabinoid that can help manage your weight is called tetrahydrocannabivarin, also known as THCV. This cannabinoid is very similar in structure to THC and produces some mild psychoactive effects as well, but it has one very interesting side effect: the ability to act as an appetite suppressant.
THCV is mostly found in marijuana sativa strains. Durban Poison contains relatively low quantities of the cannabinoid, while harder-to-find strains like Pineapple Purps and Doug’s Varin contain higher quantities of THCV. If you’re interested in THCV for its ability to regulate blood sugar and manage appetite, ask the cannabis consultant at your local dispensary for lab test results on sativa strains to find the one that has the highest THCV content.
So, can we really count weight loss as part of marijuana’s long list of positive medical applications? Studies have shown that cannabis consumers tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-consumers do, but researchers stopped short of claiming any causal relationship between cannabis and BMI. Luckily, a few recent studies explore whether cannabis consumption leads to weight loss.
A 2015 study funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research investigated the effects of chronic cannabis use on the body weight of mice. Lean and overweight mice were treated daily with THC for four weeks and fed a high-fat diet. At the end of the month, the researchers observed the mice’s weight change, locomotor activity and whole gut transit.
The researchers concluded that “THC reduced weight gain, fat mass gain and energy uptake” in obese mice. Interestingly, this finding didn’t hold for the lean mice—meaning, cannabis had no effect on their locomotor activity and whole gut transit.
Researchers also discovered that daily cannabis use actually altered the gut microbiota, or the microbial population that lives in the intestine. Gut microbiota helps break down food, promotes healthy digestion, and can ultimately determine weight gain and loss. The researchers believe that orally ingested THC induced the change in gut microbiota, which likely contributed to the weight loss in obese mice.
In another study conducted in 2016 and published in the American Journal of Medicine , researchers looked into cannabis consumption and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome can be a nebulous term, but in this study it was defined as:
Basically, metabolic syndrome is when someone experiences all of these conditions together, which makes them more susceptible to diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
Adults between the ages of 20–59 were surveyed with respondents totaling 8,500. Some had never consumed cannabis, others had previously consumed marijuana, and another group comprised current cannabis consumers. The researchers found that less than 14% of current marijuana consumers were affected by metabolic syndrome, compared to 22% which is the national average for adults in the United States.
Researchers concluded, “Current marijuana use is associated with lower odds of metabolic syndrome across emerging and middle-aged U.S. adults.”
These findings are promising for people with health issues that increase the risk of obesity such as:
If you’re dealing with one of these issues and are worried about possible weight gain, cannabis could be a natural way to counteract that side effect.
There’s way more to the story when it comes to cannabis and your weight. Not only does marijuana appear to help you shed the pounds, but it can also be used to make exercising more enjoyable. Some people actually find cannabis motivates them before and during a workout—yet another way marijuana can promote weight loss. Let us know in the comments if cannabis has helped you lose weight and how you incorporate marijuana into a healthy lifestyle.
Photo Credit: Patricia Serna