Many different conditions come to mind when you hear the term ‘medical marijuana,’ but one you might not think of is weight loss. After all, isn’t the stoner stereotype perpetually hungry? While there is some truth to the myth of the Doritos-ravaging stoner, new research suggests that medical cannabis can actually help you maintain a healthy weight. But what are the benefits of medical marijuana for weight loss?
Here, we’ll discuss the science of cannabis and your metabolism, along with the specific compounds responsible for the metabolic effects of marijuana. We’ll illustrate the practical applications of current research and provide guidance on how to reap the maximum weight loss benefits your medical cannabis experience.
Current Research on Cannabis for Weight Loss
Over 30,000 individuals participated in research to discover how the effects of cannabis for weight loss conducted by the International Journal of Epidemiology. The findings of the study surprised even those of us who consider ourselves knowledgeable about medical cannabis. In short, the study indicated that people who consume cannabis periodically are less susceptible to overweight and obesity than those who don’t partake at all.
The study, conducted over three years, showed that while all participants gained some weight, those gains were smaller for those who smoked marijuana than for those who abstained. The researchers believe that marijuana can influence metabolism through cellular changes. This opinion is consistent with findings from comparable studies.
Studies by the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2011 found that cannabis users are less vulnerable to obesity than those who do not choose to partake, and that cannabis is shown to increase appetite. Other studies have found that, contrary to popular belief, lovers of marijuana have smaller waistlines and lower LDL cholesterol (the bad kind) relative to abstainers.
This is especially encouraging for people diagnosed with or predisposed to type II diabetes, as it may help to reverse some of the damage wrought by chronic high blood sugar. The benefits of medical marijuana for weight loss may also extend long after one falls off the dieting wagon, helping to maintain weight loss over time.
The Benefits of Medical Marijuana for Weight Loss
The proverbial “calories in, calories out” theory only carries you so far when trying to lose weight. Of course your diet has a huge influence on your weight, but it isn’t the only factor. Your natural metabolic rate can also be affected by the quality of your sleep.
While it sounds counterintuitive, we actually burn a surprising number of calories during sleep. This is because our brains require lots of fuel to power our bodies and minds, and good sleep is a critical part of your brain’s daily maintenance routine. The body devotes most of your energy while sleeping to your brain, which is hard at work cementing new neural connections and dismantling old ones.
It follows, then, that good sleep (both duration and quality) is essential for healthy weight loss. If you suffer from chronic insomnia or wake frequently throughout the night, your sleep quality decreases. As any sleepless or midnight snack lover tells you, sleep deprivation tends to raise appetite as well, leading you to eat more during waking hours even if you aren’t hitting the fridge at 2 am.
CBD is especially helpful for troubled sleep. The non-psychoactive cannabinoid helps to induce sleep by acting as an anxiolytic and antispasmodic. CBD is also demonstrated to help improve the quality and duration of sleep, particularly REM sleep. Ask your local dispensary for an indica or indica-heavy hybrid, which tend to be relatively high in CBD and lower in THC.
If you are especially susceptible to sleep disturbances like panic attacks or night terrors, exercise caution with THC at bedtime. While it’s relatively rare, high doses can exacerbate these symptoms for some people.
THC and Obesity
Some people need to take THC-heavy strains to manage pain and other chronic conditions effectively. THC is frequently associated with the classic “munchies,” so it’s reasonable to wonder: will lots of THC make you gain weight? While the answer in humans isn’t yet closely observed, we do have some idea of how THC affects weight loss in mammals.
In a 2015 study of a group of obese mice, a rather paradoxical effect of THC was illustrated. Part of the group was treated with THC, while the other received a placebo. The mice treated with THC tended to lose weight, particularly the ones that were the heaviest at the start of the study. The findings are interesting, but further study is needed to draw any real conclusions.
It is worth noting that the obese mice in the study were given an oral dose of THC versus the usual inhalation of medical cannabis smoke or vapor by most consumers. Researchers noted a change in the intestinal flora of the mice treated with THC, which may have contributed to their weight loss. This raises the question of the effects of oral THC (edibles ahoy!) on our human microbiomes, which studies reveal may have substantial impact on our weight, mental health, skin, and other aspects of health.
Indeed, long-term medical marijuana users appear to have a lower obesity rate compared to non-smokers, indicating that the munchies may not drastically increase your waistline. Non-smokers have also been shown to have a lower rate of metabolism than occasional or long-term tokers.
Encourage “Browning” of Fat Cells
In your body, there are two basic types of fat: white and brown. The main form of white fat (the stuff we usually picture) is to store energy and is fairly readily broken down by the body. It also isolates and protects the internal organs. Excess white fat, especially visceral fat, may contribute to increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses.
Brown fat, on the other hand, does not break down easily. In fact, it actually plays an important role in metabolism of white fat. Persons of a healthy weight appear to have more brown fat than people who are overweight or obese. However, your natural brown/white fat ratio is somewhat malleable and can be adjusted with lifestyle — and cannabis.
Through exercising, getting adequate sleep and exposing to cold temperatures, you can slowly convert white fat to brown fat. Emerging research illustrates the action of CBD on this process, illustrating the potential benefits of medical marijuana for weight loss. An in-vitro study found that CBD led more white fat cells to “brown,” increasing the expression of certain genes and proteins that support brown fat.
CBD Strengthens Metabolism & Decreases Appetite
Preliminary research suggests that CBD may reduce food intake and improve weight loss by supporting metabolism (catabolism, specifically). Animal studies show that CBD affects weight loss by interacting with lymphoid and brain CB1 and CB2 receptors. These receptors are considered important for metabolism and perception of hunger and satiety.
In a biweekly trial, rats had CBD injected daily at 1.1 and 2.3 mg / Pfund (2,5 and 5 mg/kg) dose per pound body weight. The two doses provided substantial body weight reductions, with the more pronounced effect at the higher dose. However, we should note that the CBD in this study was injected rather than administered orally. In another rat research study of CBD, the consumption of food with other drugs, such as cannabis and tobacco, decreased significantly.
CBD Supports Exercise & Recovery
Beyond calming you down and helping you sleep, CBD has applications for exercise and athletic recovery. Many people find that it helps them to focus and stick to the task at hand. A dose of CBD before a workout can give you the concentration and resolve you need to push your limits and meet your goals. This appears especially true of aerobic and endurance workouts, though it may also help with strength training.
We live in a golden age of cannabis science and medical exploration, but further research is needed to see which cannabinoid combinations are the most successful in supporting weight loss. However, preliminary evidence supports the benefits of medical marijuana for weight loss. If you live in a state that is appropriate for use, contact your physician or local dispensary to seek out a high-CBD medical marijuana strain. You can also use CBD alone to effectively address a number of weight loss concerns.