Long reputed to stoke “the munchies,” marijuana may not be the first weight loss solution that comes to mind. However, a growing body of research suggests that cannabis could be linked to lower rates of obesity and even diabetes, a disease with more than 1.4 million new diagnoses every year in the United States.
In this article, you'll learn how regular cannabis consumption might contribute to a slimmer waistline and hear what the experts have to say about weed and weight loss.
An overview of the research
Before we dive into the studies on cannabis and weight loss, let's define two important terms.
Endocannabinoid system: Cannabinoid receptors, lipids, and enzymes that perform a key role in maintaining homeostasis (balance) in the body. The endocannabinoid system directly influences any therapeutic effects of cannabis on the body and brain.
Metabolism: The process by which the body converts solid food and fluids into energy. More broadly defined as the set of life-sustaining chemical reactions in all living organisms.
The endocannabinoid system is critically involved with metabolism, according to Dr. Adie Rae, a neuroscientist and scientific adviser to Weedmaps. If the endocannabinoid system is in balance, then the body's metabolism may also be functioning at optimal levels. In contrast, if the endocannabinoid system is off-kilter, metabolism may slow and weight gain could occur.
So, does weed make you lose weight? It's not quite that simple. Dr. Rae pointed out the paradox that “THC causes the munchies, but chronic cannabis use appears to be protective against metabolic disorders such as obesity.”
Cannabis consumers appear to have many metabolic syndrome benefits, according to Dr. Rae and available research. While there isn't a conclusive link between cannabis use and weight loss specifically, the following associations between regular cannabis consumption and metabolism have been observed:
- Lower obesity rates
- Lower Body Mass Index (BMI)
- Smaller waist circumference
- Better insulin resistance
- Lower incidence of diabetes
- Lower rates of fatty liver disease
According to Dr. Rae, “Hemp seed oil, not resin oil, may help protect against diet-induced fatty liver disease.” All of these observed results are incredibly promising, but it's worth diving deeper into the research to understand the true potential of cannabis consumption and metabolic activity.
Studies on cannabis and weight loss
One very targeted study published in 2019 in the journal Brain Sciences showed lower obesity rates among a certain population. Researchers considered older African American adults residing in economically challenged areas of South Los Angeles. The findings revealed lower levels of obesity among the adults who regularly consumed cannabis.
An earlier study published in 2011 in the American Journal of Epidemiology analyzed a more diverse population. The study showed that cannabis consumers had lower BMIs than the general population. Researchers concluded that “the prevalence of obesity is lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.”
Smaller waist circumference was among the observations from a 2015 study published in the American Journal of Medicine. From a sample of 4,657 adults, researchers found that current marijuana use was associated with notably smaller waist circumferences in addition to 16% lower fasting insulin rates. As elevated fasting insulin rates are often a precursor to diabetes, these findings could be significant to the 88 million Americans classified as prediabetic.
With regard to diabetes, a 2020 study published in the Journal of Viral Hepatitis looked specifically at patients with chronic hepatitis-C. Researchers determined that cannabis use was associated with a lower risk of diabetes in this patient population.
A 2017 study published in the journal PLoS One examined the correlation between nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and marijuana consumption. Researchers determined that active marijuana use was a protective factor against NAFLD.
Cannabis consumers share their stories
James Munster is a 52-year-old plumber who described himself as a “lifetime stoner.” Munster smoked his first joint at the age of 15 and has been consuming cannabis on a daily basis since then.
In a phone interview with Weedmaps, Munster shared, “My whole family is overweight. My three brothers, my sister, and my parents. I'm the only one in the family who has never been on a diet. And I'm also the only one who has been smoking weed my whole life.”
Munster, who stands 6'1” and weighs 176 pounds, claimed that he exercises once or twice a week and eats a non-restrictive diet including pizza and potato chips. “I really think the weed has always kept me in balance. I don't know about all the science behind it, but it's just something I feel in my gut,” he said with a laugh.
In 2018, 28-year-old Canadian resident Ayan Ikra told the Daily Mail that smoking marijuana twice a day helped her shed more than 100 pounds. Ikra, who weighed close to 300 pounds at her heaviest, said, “I am smoking weed daily and I'm happy with that. I hate the stigma around it. I want to show that smoking weed can help you lose weight.” In addition to cannabis, Ikra credited a healthier diet and increased exercise.
Of course, these experiences may not be typical and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner before starting a cannabis regimen for weight loss or any other purpose.
What the experts say about cannabis and weight loss
Despite the numerous studies indicating a positive correlation between cannabis consumption and metabolic function, the marijuana munchies are a real phenomenon. As Dr. Rae described, “THC is definitely the active compound in whole-plant cannabis that is responsible for inducing appetite. The body's metabolic hormones are involved in this phenomenon. This is what makes it an effective medicine for palliative care, IBD, wasting syndrome, and people with cancer.” Therefore, short-term use of marijuana tends to stimulate appetite, whereas long-term consumption has shown to potentially do the opposite.
The bottom line on cannabis and weight loss
There appears to be a lot of potential when it comes to weed for weight loss, but more research is needed to draw any conclusions. “There haven't been many prospective studies on cannabis and weight loss. That is, we haven't measured people before they started using cannabis, and watched what happened to their weight, BMI, or body composition as they progress through prolonged periods of using cannabis,” said Dr. Rae. “Almost everything we know about cannabis and weight is gleaned from studies that compare cannabis users to non-users.”
Knowing that, it appears cannabis for weight loss may be more of a marathon than a sprint. Dr. Rae explained, “As a short-term weight-loss tool, cannabis alone is probably not very effective. However, over a lifetime of using cannabis, it appears to provide protection against obesity and other metabolic disorders. When taken consistently as a micronutrient, rather than a weight-loss 'drug,' cannabis could help to support normal endocannabinoid system function and maintain a healthy weight.”