The negative stereotype that cannabis consumers are lazy with a bad case of the munchies still holds a firm place in many people’s minds—despite 64% of Americans favoring marijuana legalization.
It’s no secret that appetite can increase after consuming cannabis. In fact, a surge in appetite is considered a positive marijuana side effect for cancer patients who experience nausea from chemotherapy. This tendency to increase appetite has led to the idea that cannabis consumers constantly binge eat and, as a result, are prone to weight gain and inactivity.
But a 2016 study conducted by Oregon Health & Science University and published by the Journal of Mental Health Policy & Economics turns the sluggish stoner stereotype on its head.
The researchers decided to examine the correlation between cannabis use and body mass index (BMI). Historically, scientific research on this topic produced mixed results, with some studies showing weight gain after continued cannabis consumption and others showing a reduction in BMI with cannabis use. In most of these previous studies, though, researchers failed to control for important lifestyle factors that could affect body weight like alcohol consumption and exercise routine.
The 2016 study looked at data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Adolescent Health comprising more than 13,000 responses from adults between the ages of 18 and 26. Each participant had his or her BMI calculated and was then tested for marijuana consumption. The participants were then re-tested six years later.
The results of the study were surprising. Researchers discovered that the BMI of females who consumed marijuana daily during the study was, on average, 3.1% lower than that of non-consumers. Males who consumed cannabis daily during the study had a 2.7% lower BMI on average than non-consumers’ BMI.
Researchers concluded that their study indicates a “negative association between marijuana use and BMI,” a divergence from the stereotypes and multiple previous studies on the subject.
Two important things should be noted about this study. First, the accuracy of BMI as a measure of health and obesity has come under scrutiny in recent years. A high BMI doesn’t necessarily mean a person is unhealthy or sedentary.
Second, the results don’t prove any sort of causal relationship between daily marijuana consumption and weight loss or maintenance. More research must be done to determine if there’s any sort of metabolic reason for why daily cannabis consumers tend to have a lower BMI than that of non-consumers.
A 2013 study published in the American Journal of Medicine looked into the relationship between blood sugar and cannabis consumption, and resulted in a possible explanation for lower BMI in daily consumers.
Researchers examined results from more than 4,500 male and female participants in the National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005–2010.
During the examinations, participants’ fasting insulin and glucose levels were measured after a nine-hour fast. Their cannabis consumption was then self-reported to researchers in a private room. The study concluded that current cannabis consumers had:
The results of these studies should not be taken as a surefire sign that daily marijuana use will result in dramatic or even moderate weight loss. But the two studies do help dismantle the stereotype of the lazy, out-of-shape stoner. These studies also provide a good foundation for future research on the correlation between cannabis consumption and fitness.
Photo credit: Marion Michele