Does weed make you lose weight? How one study sparked the debate
A study published in 2019 found lower rates of obesity in those who smoke marijuana.
However, the authors of the study said that the link did not mean a causal relationship and weed shouldn’t be used as a weight-loss tool.
Marijuana is used at least once a month by 8.4% of Americans aged 15 to 64. Of these, 37% use cannabis for medical reasons.
While smoking weed is often associated with an increased appetite, i.e. the “munchies,” a study in 2019 sparked the question: Could smoking marijuana help people lose weight and combat the negative health effects of obesity? Here’s what you need to know about weed and weight loss.
Using marijuana does not directly cause weight loss
A three-year study published in the October 2019 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology indicated lower rates of obesity, on average, in those who smoke marijuana.
However, the authors of the study cautioned that weed should not be relied upon as a weight loss aid as their study did not indicate a clear causal relationship between marijuana and weight loss. To find out more about the science behind weed and weight loss, Insider spoke to Jordan Tishler, a medical doctor, an Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Regarding the October 2019 study’s results, Tishler says “Clearly, this is not proof of anything, but is interesting.” He adds that, “there are no studies on using cannabis to cause weight loss.”
In fact, there are only five FDA-approved substances that have been scientifically proven to directly cause people to lose weight beyond basic calorie-restriction, and marijuana is not one of them.
Evidence that marijuana can even indirectly lead to weight loss is weak. “There is one cannabinoid, which is relatively rare, called THCV that does seem, in rodents, to decrease appetite. However, this has not been shown in humans,” says Tishler.
Cannabis may cause you to eat more, not less
Using marijuana can cause behavioral changes, such as munchies, that can, on an individual level, lead to weight gain. The “munchies” refers to the phenomenon where people who have used cannabis experience a surge of hunger thought to be caused by the chemical THC in the drug.
And while the munchies is largely a phenomenon shown in Hollywood films and known simply through personal experience, there is some scientific research to indicate that marijuana can, indeed, increase appetite and, as a result, may increase body mass in individuals who consume excess calories beyond their energy needs on any given day.
So, for some, not smoking weed may be a better choice when it comes to weight loss. “If cannabis use for you leads to munchies, and you have a tendency to satisfy those munchies with high-calorie foods, then stopping cannabis may be necessary,” says Tishler.
And if you can’t stop because you’re using marijuana for a medical issue, then Tishler recommends making sure you have plenty of healthy foods around for when the munchies hit. Fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, like chicken, fish, and yogurt, are more satiating options than the stereotypical junk foods often used in these scenarios.
“I always tell my patients that if they have a bag of Doritos, they will eat it. If, on the other hand, they only have access to carrots, they’ll eat those instead. Hence, buy carrots, not Doritos,” says Tishler.A study published in 2019 found lower rates of obesity in people who smoked weed. But that doesn't mean weed makes you lose weight. Here's why.
Smoking Weed for Weight Loss: Does it Work?
What to know before toking up.
You’ve probably heard that ongoing punchline about how stoners always have the munchies. But is it actually true? Maybe.
Research shows that smoking marijuana does affect the mechanisms that trigger hunger in our brain: receptors in our brain trigger the release of hormones that make us feel famished, causing us to gobble up everything in sight.
But even though there’s evidence to support the Cheetos-munching stoner stereotype, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely true. Other studies have shown that smoking pot doesn’t lead to weight gain.
In fact, people who regularly smoke get high off weed are less likely to be overweight or obese compared to those who don’t, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The study included more than 30,000 participants. All put on weight during the three year study, but those who smoked weed gained the fewest pounds. This was determined by comparing Body Mass Index for participants in the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions study.
Researchers tied to that study theorize that cannabis may create cellular changes that impact weight gain.
And this isn’t the only study that indicates stoners 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.
So why else might this be the case? Researchers speculate it’s because of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that causes people to be “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.
Other 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,” said 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 smoking 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.
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.Contrary to popular belief, smoking pot doesn't lead to weight gain — according to a few studies. In fact, weed might even help you maintain your weight. ]]>