By this point, you’ve already heard all the dead-horse punchlines about stoners and the munchies. Pot-smokers, after all, are solely to blame for weird fast food menu items, bizarre snack chip flavors, and 99% of all Ben & Jerry’s ice cream combinations.
And, okay, pot-induced junk food binges are, obviously, not great for maintaining a healthy diet.
This is because science has routinely shown that irregular eating patterns (i.e., hitting up a late-night drive thru for a taco or four when you already had dinner) can lead to overeating, which can lead to being overweight, which can lead to a whole host of health complications up to and including heart disease, diabetes, and certain cancers (colon cancer, for one).
But, jokes (and threats!) aside, there’s also some interesting science emerging regarding marijuana, appetite, weight gain, and weight loss.
Researchers are beginning to determine the role marijuana plays in metabolism, fat loss, and–here’s a biggie–motivation as it relates to a healthy lifestyle.
That may lead you to wonder if enjoying some THC could, in some strange way, actually help you lose some pounds. Or, in the very least, that partaking in weed may not be as bad for your waistline as you once assumed.
Is weed the unsung weight loss tool you’re missing? Or is it a dangerous drug that will leave you raiding the fridge and sabotaging any semblance of a healthy approach to eating?
While the research on all this is still relatively new, some interesting findings are coming to light.
What the science says about weed and weight gain
Research has shown that marijuana may affect the mechanisms that trigger hunger in the brain, specifically receptors that release hormones. But even though there’s evidence to support the Cheetos-munching stoner stereotype, other studies have shown that smoking pot doesn’t lead to weight gain.
In fact, 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.
And this isn’t the only study that indicates cannabis users may weigh less than people who don’t smoke. A 2011 study from the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that even if weed consumption increases appetite, “people using cannabis are less likely to be obese than people who do not use cannabis.”
Other studies indicate that many cannabis users have trimmer waistlines than non-users, as well as lower cholesterol levels. What’s more, these results have proven to be true regardless of sample size or factors like age and gender.
Why might weed lead to weight loss?
Researchers speculate it’s because of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that causes people to feel high.
To test the link between THC and weight loss, 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.
Yes, that’s a rodent study, but ither studies in Poland, Italy, Hungary, Canada and the UK have replicated these findings, leading some researchers to conclude that there is “a correlation between cannabis use and reduction in the BMI,” says Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Washington-based physician and cannabis researcher. “This association holds even after controlling for other variables,” such as age, gender, or why a person is smoking marijuana to begin with (so for instance, a cancer patient who uses marijuana as a method of pain relief).
That said, there’s also some evidence indicating that marijuana’s effects on weight fluctuation are more complicated than Aggarwal would suggest. Didier Jutras-Aswad, a professor of neuroscience at University of Montreal, has studied how cannabis affects the functions of neurobiological circuits controlling appetite.
“It is known … that cannabis causes temporary increase in appetite,” which can indeed lead to weight gain, he said. Yet he conceded that “as to whether it actually causes weight gain in the long term, the available data is limited.”
It’s important to note that cannabis isn’t a prescription for weight loss: If you don’t exercise and have unhealthy eating habits, then weed probably won’t help you have a lower BMI.
Plus, you also want to consider that smoking weed is tied to breathing problems, psychosis, and mania-like symptoms in people with bipolar disorder. In fact, research suggests that smoking marijuana can lead to chronic bronchitis even injure the cell linings on your lungs, according to the American Lung Association.
The bottom line:There’s no evidence suggesting weed will help with your physique goals. The best way to lose weight is by following a diet plan that works for you.