People have long been consumed with the quest for weight loss. Meat-reducing soaps, drinking vinegar, and ingesting tapeworms are just a few of the pretty creative — and questionable — ways we’ve come up with to shed pounds.
While experts agree that increased exercise and following a healthy diet are the foundation for long-term weight loss, many turn to supplements for extra help — about 15% of Americans have tried them at some point in their lives.
But how many have tried cannabis?
Weed is known for its ability to induce the munchies, so it seems paradoxical that the plant could help us lose weight. Still, research suggests that cannabis users are significantly less likely to be obese than non-users. (Also: Adult cannabis legalization may even be linked to lower obesity rates at the state level.)
Let’s take a look at how cannabis can contribute to weight loss and look at the cannabinoids that play a major role in influencing appetite.
Why does weed give you the munchies?
Is there evidence that cannabis can aid weight loss?
The discovery that cannabis use is associated with weight loss has often been accidental. Usually, researchers look for the effects of marijuana on glucose levels, cardiovascular risks, epilepsy or chronic diseases, and find that cannabis can also reduce weight.
Cannabis users have a lower BMI despite eating more
According to a review, 17 studies have shown that cannabis users generally have a lower body mass index (BMI) than non-users. BMI is a measure of body fat based on height and weight that applies to adult men and women. In all studies, the average BMI of cannabis users was 26 kg/m2, while the average BMI of non-users was 27.5 kg/m2.
While 1.5 kg may not sound like much, this clinically significant difference suggests that cannabis users are leaner and closer to a healthy BMI range (18.5–25 kg/m2) than those who do not use cannabis. One study even found that frequency of cannabis use was inversely related to BMI. Simply put, it appears that more frequent cannabis use is associated with a lower BMI.
Other research found that 53.7% of non-cannabis users were obese and 36.7% of occasional users were obese, while only 28.7% of frequent users were obese.
Here’s the punch line, though: The study also shows that cannabis users not only have a lower BMI, but also consume more calories than non-users (perhaps thanks to the munchies). Cannabis users consume an average of 834 calories per day more than non-users according to the above review. However, this additional food intake does not appear to increase BMI or cause users to gain weight.
How does cannabis affect weight and calorie intake?
In 2018, a team of researchers in Indiana came up with a theory for this paradox, speculating that cannabis may reduce energy stores and speed up metabolism.
CB1 receptors in the endocannabinoid system can stop working properly with an unbalanced diet, especially if we consume too many omega-6 fatty acids relative to omega-3 fatty acids. The endocannabinoid system plays a fundamental role in regulating appetite, metabolism and energy storage. Most Western diets are rich in omega-6 but deficient in omega-3, which can overstimulate CB1 receptors, contributing to inflammation and weight gain.
According to the research team, exposure to THC can block the function of CB1 receptors, which may help reduce the effects of inflammation and weight gain.
Other scientists have suggested that cannabis may also regulate metabolism by increasing body weight in low-weight individuals, but not in average or overweight individuals.
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Diet Weed: Cannabinoids Linked to Appetite Suppression
Other data looks specifically at the role of cannabinoids on feeding behavior. While THC, the main intoxicating cannabinoid in marijuana, stimulates appetite, other cannabinoids such as CBD and THCV (also known as diet marijuana) appear to reduce appetite.
According to a 2022 review, there is evidence that CBD can reduce appetite and enhance a feeling of fullness. In one of the studies reviewed, participants who received CBD also experienced a drop in BMI after treatment. In general, lower doses of CBD seemed to lead to a small reduction in appetite, while larger doses led to greater appetite suppression.
In rodent studies, THCV has been shown to reduce appetite, promote satiety and boost metabolism. In human studies, THCV may improve glucose regulation, which may also support weight loss.
While researchers still don’t know exactly how THCV or CBD exert these effects, it has been speculated that the cannabinoids may act like Rimonabant, an anti-obesity drug that acts on CB1 receptors. However, unlike Rimonabant, CBD and THCV have not been associated with serious side effects.
How could you use cannabis to support weight loss?
Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of excitement about these cannabinoids as weight loss supplements, and stores are quickly filling up with products. For example, online CBD store Sunmed recently released a product line called TRIM. The proprietary blended extract uses CBDV and THCV to support weight loss, according to Dr. Anthony Ferrari, PhD, chief science officer at Sunmed.
Anecdotally, cannabis users report that the plant may support weight loss in other ways.
Donna Shields, a registered dietitian, nutritionist and co-founder of the Holistic Cannabis Academy, said cannabis can support a person’s weight loss journey by aiding in the transition to a healthier lifestyle. With improved general well-being, weight loss can come more easily. She emphasized that cannabis should not be used as a miracle cure for weight loss, but as an aid.
How does cannabis affect sleeping and dreaming?
“For example, if you don’t get enough sleep or poor quality sleep, it activates the hormone ghrelin, which affects hunger and how fat is deposited in the body,” Shields explains. “If cannabis can help you sleep, then you are helping to solve the problem of weight gain. I cannot stress enough how poor sleep contributes to poor weight management.”
Shields also added that by relieving pain, cannabis could help people with pain-related problems become more active, helping them achieve weight loss goals.
“A holistic approach will achieve wellness faster than popping a gummy and calling it a day,” she said. “Meditation, exercise of any kind, a clean diet…all of these things are critical. It is a multidisciplinary approach that produces the best results.”