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  • Norma Gray

How Cannabis Can Help With Weight Loss

Marijuana is commonly thought of as the “munchies” plant. As the customary stoner stereotype goes, cannabis users should consume excessive amounts of Doritos, be overweight and be addicted to video games. Not many of us associate cannabis with weight loss, but statistical data actually suggests otherwise. In fact, cannabis is being researched as a novel way to treat obesity - a pathology that affects over one third of Americans. Interestingly, researchers have made the observation that among cannabis users, BMI is considerably lower. However, we don’t understand exactly how this phenomenon works yet. Researchers have proposed a number of different mechanisms as to how cannabis can help with weight loss, but as it stands, they haven’t really agreed on one yet. Perhaps it is a complex cascade of physiological interactions with cannabinoids that finally leads to a healthier BMI.

The CB1 receptor and its role in weight regulation

First things first, we need to talk about the endocannabinoid system. This complicated network of cannabinoid receptors, located all over the body, plays an important role in the regulation of body weight. Aside from regulating the physiology of memory and immune function, the endocannabinoid system also regulates appetite, energy expenditure and the metabolism of sugars and fats. In fact, for this exact reason, cannabis is offered as a potential treatment to those whose medical conditions can result in wasting away. For example, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy may use cannabis to increase appetite. The same goes for AIDS patients, whose bodies are prone to extreme weight loss. There is even research to support that anorexia sufferers can benefit from consuming cannabis. However, none of this explains how cannabis can make somebody lose weight. It shows us that the endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid receptors play a vital role in the regulation of appetite and body weight. In the Journal of Clinical Investigations, researchers concluded that there is a causal relationship between the CB1 receptor and systemic metabolism. This supports the hypothesis that the endocannabinoid system can be a target when treating conditions related to body weight or BMI.

Cannabis and insulin levels

A proposed mechanism of action by which cannabis can help with weight loss is in its effect on insulin levels. For those who don’t know, insulin is a hormone that regulates the metabolism of sugar. When bodies develop insulin resistance, such as in Type 2 Diabetes, cells are unable to break down sugars. This results in an increase of adipose (fat) tissue, and therefore in weight gain. In a 2013 study, researchers found that cannabis users had an average 16% lower fasting insulin levels than those who did not use cannabis. They also found that cannabis users had a 17% lower insulin resistance than other subjects of the study. The researchers propose that cannabis may act peripherally on the insulin hormone, affecting insulin levels by assisting cannabis users to decrease BMI.

Cannabis users are less likely to be obese

So, at the moment it’s a little bit unclear as to how cannabis can help in weight loss. After all, cannabis is often prescribed to those who need to gain weight! That being said, there is a lot of statistical evidence which proves that cannabis users are less likely to be obese. In one study published in the journal, Obesity, the data points to a serious connection between cannabis and lowered BMI. In this particular study, adults who had used cannabis within the last 12 months were more likely to have low BMIs than those who abstained from cannabis use. Again, the researchers concluded that a possible mechanism of action was insulin, although cannabis does not affect insulin directly. In the same 2013 study mentioned above, published in the American Journal of Medicine, the researchers took to measuring the BMI and waist circumference of both cannabis users and non-cannabis users. Of all the subjects, 12% were current marijuana users. The results showed that current marijuana users had an average 7% lower BMI than the rest of those studied, plus an average 4% smaller waist circumference. Finally, in a survey published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the data shows that rates of obesity are almost one third lower in the cannabis smoking population of the USA.

THC and THCv: Same same but different

When you consume cannabis and become overwhelmed with the desire to eat (a lot), you’re experiencing the effects of THC on your appetite sensations. Most cannabis users report that during a bout of the munchies, it’s easy to eat exponentially greater volumes than usual. This effect of THC is why cancer patients can increase their appetite and possibly even gain some weight from cannabis use. THCv, on the other hand, is a cannabinoid that actually has the effect of reducing appetite and increasing energy expenditure. This cannabinoid is present in basically all strains of cannabis to varying levels. For the most part, THCv levels are lower than THC levels. However, certain strains of cannabis have been grown to yield greater levels of THCv, such as Super Silver Haze. Because THCv levels are generally low in most cannabis strains, a certain company has taken to trying to produce commercial volumes of this cannabinoid. Teewinot Life Sciences are the first company to replicate THCv and reproduce it, making it more available for research and possibly even consumer sales in the future. It is a novel way of addressing America’s ongoing problem with obesity.

Using the munchies in your favor

Not all of us have access to cannabis strains high in THCv, but that doesn’t mean you can’t use cannabis to lose weight. All the evidence supports the fact that cannabis users have healthier weight ranges than non-users. That’s not to say that every obese person should attempt to lose weight with cannabis, but it is a tool that is available to most Americans to try. If you’re going to be using cannabis as a method to lose weight, you need to tackle the challenge of the munchies. Most readily available strains of cannabis have high THC content, making them perfect candidates for instigating the munchies. You can use this in your favor! All food tastes great under the effect of THC, so before you go reaching for a bag of chips, prepare a huge salad. It will satisfy your munchies, and thanks to the effect of THC on our taste buds, it will taste absolutely amazing. The thing is that if you want to use cannabis to assist with weight loss, you have to have a plan of attack for dealing with the munchies. Cannabis alone cannot help a person to lose weight. Rather, it is a complementary tool to a good diet and regular exercise, helping a person maintain and sustain weight loss over a long period of time.

Could cannabis end the USA’s obesity epidemic?

Even if this avenue of research is still brand new, there is much promise in this novel treatment for obesity. Food related pathologies remain a constant battle for the American healthcare system, whether it is obesity or diabetes. It is almost counter-intuitive to think that cannabis, of all the possibilities, could pose a solution to this issue. It just comes to show that so much of what we originally thought about cannabis and cannabis users is based in propaganda rather than solid evidence. As the research continues to emerge, cannabis could really help those suffering from any weight-related illness. It is particularly promising that cannabis can help people gain weight or lose weight, depending on their situation. But the most exciting result from all of the current research is that cannabis may help people not just to lose weight, but to keep it off.