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Can Marijuana Be Good for Weight Loss?

Emerging research has found that people who smoke weed regularly actually weigh less than nonsmokers. How can this be?

Marijuana: Does It Lead to Weight Loss?

We have all heard that smoking marijuana causes the munchies, but did you know that people who smoke weed actually weigh less?

In 2011, the American Journal of Epidemiology published a study that discovered something that may surprise you: obesity rates are about a third lower among those who smoked marijuana three times a week (or more) than those who did not smoke any marijuana. The research stems from two studies of United States adults with a combined total of 52,000 participants. The results of one of these two large national surveys showed that 22% of nonsmokers were obese, yet only 14% of the regular marijuana smokers were obese. The other survey they analyzed revealed that 25% of nonsmokers were categorized as obese, but, in contrast, only 17% of everyday marijuana smokers were obese. This data is certainly intriguing.

Another study published in the American Journal of Medicine discovered that participants who smoked cannabis regularly (3-5 times per week) had 16% lower fasting insulin levels. In this study, the marijuana smokers also had smaller waist circumferences.

So, does smoking weed actually cause weight loss? Not so fast. The study results do show a correlation between smoking marijuana and a reduced risk of obesity, even after they adjusted for other circumstances that may impact body weight (age, gender, race, etc.), but it’s simply an association--it does not show cause and effect.

How do we explain the interconnection between pot smoking and lower body weight? Well, there could be several factors at play here. For one, the marijuana smokers could be replacing one obsessive habit, such as eating too much food, with another behavior, such as smoking weed. Therefore, they could be not taking in as many calories because they have cut out the compulsive overeating and substituted it with the ganja smoking. When you eat highly-palatable foods that are high in fat, salt, and refined sugars, it activates the reward center in your brain (called the nucleus accumbens), giving you somewhat of a “high”, but pot smokers stimulate that same reward center of the brain without taking in any calories.

Another explanation could be that medical marijuana is oftentimes used as an appetite stimulant in patients with AIDS, cancer, or other “wasting” diseases. Therefore, these individuals (who could potentially have been a part of the large group of study participants surveyed, although this is not known) are likely to have been underweight already since research has shown that they are significantly less prone to be obese than adults with no chronic health problem that affect weight.

But if marijuana is a known appetite stimulant, why aren’t regular smokers obese? It’s feasible that people who routinely smoke Mary Jane actually become tolerant to it--their bodies get used to it and a lot of its effects are decreased over time. The cannabinoid receptors in their brains, which regulate memory and appetite, initially cause memory problems and a ravenous appetite (a.k.a. the munchies) but then those same receptors become desensitized and the smokers are less likely to overeat, preventing weight gain.

Of course, this does not mean we should all channel Cheech and Chong in order to lose weight--especially if it is still illegal in your state--but it is definitely interesting research that warrants further investigation.

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