Whether or not you’ve ever smoked weed, you’ve probably heard of the munchies — that overpowering drive to eat all the snacks after smoking weed.
But others swear that smoking weed not only makes them eat less, but also makes them lose weight.
Using marijuana may be associated with lower body weight, but it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.
Here’s a look at what we do and don’t know about the relationship between smoking weed and weight loss.
Does cannabis help you lose weight
A 2011 review concluded that people who do not use cannabis have higher obesity rates than those who use at least 3 days a week. The report included two surveys with a total of 50,736 respondents.
The prevalence of cannabis users with obesity was 16.1%, compared to non-users, where 22% of the participants had obesity.
An earlier study came to similar conclusions. The 2010 studyTrusted Source results suggest that young adult cannabis users are less likely to have obesity or overweight than non-users.
More recent studies also show a similar link. One meta-analysis from 2018Trusted Source suggests that cannabis users have a reduced body mass index (BMI) and less obesity. The analysis also reveals that cannabis use increased caloric intake.
However, cannabis is not a suitable treatment for obesity. It is important to note that the research on cannabis and weight loss points to a link between cannabis use and lower body weight. Studies have yet to provide an explanation for why this link exists.
Cannabis may have a link to lower BMI and rates of obesity because it:
- may lower alcohol consumption
- increases activity levels in some people
- might affect metabolism
- may help with sleep issues
How does cannabis affect hunger?
According to a 2014 articleTrusted Source in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, smoking or ingesting cannabis can increase a person’s appetite by stimulating cannabinoid (CB1) receptors in the brain. These receptors release a hormone that increases food intake.
Cannabinoid receptors are naturally present in humans, and cannabinoids, which are compounds in the cannabis plant and include cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), affect humans by attaching to these receptors.
Research in animals also suggests that cannabis may trigger the release of ghrelin, an appetite-stimulating hormone.
Other side effects of smoking cannabis
The short-term side effects of smoking cannabis include:
- changes in mood
- altered senses
- trouble problem-solving and thinking
- memory issues
- altered sense of time
The National Institute on Drug Abuse indicate that hallucinations, psychosis, and delusions are rare but might occur when a person uses exceptionally high doses of cannabis.
Smoking cannabis may have some notable long-term risks. For instance, the American Lung Association explain that the smoke contains many harmful, cancer-causing agents, such as those in tobacco smoke.
People who smoke cannabis also tend to inhale more deeply and hold their breath longer than the typical cigarette smoker. Each of these extended inhalations exposes the lungs to more tar. Smoking cannabis can cause unpleasant symptoms, including:
- chronic cough
- excess phlegm production
- acute bronchitis
- air bubbles in the lungs
- air pockets between the lungs and chest wall
Using cannabis can also affect the immune system and increase a person’s risk of lower respiratory tract infections.
Some cannabis users also develop a cannabis use disorder where they build up a cannabis dependence. This can lead to some mild withdrawal symptoms, such as headaches.
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, around 30% of people who smoke cannabis may have cannabis use disorder. People who start smoking cannabis before the age of 18 are more likely to develop this disorder. However, the level of the disorder varies among users.
In younger people, cannabis use can also affect brain development, cause a rapid heart rate, problems with development, and lead to nausea and vomiting.
People with existing mental health issues may experience adverse effects when using cannabis.
The complex world of cannabinoids
Marijuana has hundreds of cannabinoids, but the two superstars—THC and CBD—are responsible for the high that recreational users love and the potential medical benefits that those with prescriptions need. “Our bodies naturally produce endocannabinoids, and they play a complex role in fat storage and energy metabolism,” Chen explains. “Cannabinoids like THC and CBD exert their effects, in part, by mimicking endocannabinoids and acting upon cannabinoid receptors throughout the brain and body.”
Even more interesting: The two compounds produce effects that are seemingly at odds with one another. CBD has been found to counteract the high that THC causes. THC can increase anxiety levels, while CBD has been shown to reduce anxiety. And their effects on our appetites differ as well. “We know THC is an appetite stimulant in human studies, but CBD is an appetite suppressant in animal studies,” Chen says.
Weed for weight loss and diabetes management?
Unfortunately, weed is not the answer when it comes to weight loss—not yet, at least. “While these studies are certainly interesting, I would not recommend it for that purpose—after all, there are contradictory appetite stimulating and suppressing effects of the compounds in cannabis,” says Chen. Even more troubling, cannabis can have the opposite desired effect in some cases. “There have been studies showing a correlation between cannabis use and an increased risk of prediabetesPDF download, which is a state where blood sugar is abnormally high and often leads to developing diabetes.”
Furthermore, Chen says, “there are a few studies showing a correlation between using cannabis and having a heart attack in the timeframe immediately after cannabis use. This is especially dangerous for individuals who are obese or diabetic and are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attack.”
But that doesn’t mean marijuana doesn’t have potential as a weight-loss aid. And with laws around marijuana loosening, researchers have new opportunities to explore its medical applications. “Research on cannabis and cannabinoids has been hindered for the last half century because they are all classified as ‘schedule 1 drugs,’ alongside drugs like heroin,” Chen says. “This makes research activities immensely difficult and restricts the federal funding eligible for this research. Moreover, the endocannabinoid system was discovered fairly recently and we are still uncovering its complex role in health and disease.”
Most medical experts have similar conclusions when discussing cannabis: There appears to be some promise, but we need more research. Chen stresses that while these studies don’t do much to prove that marijuana is the key to weight loss and diabetes treatment, they inspire more research—and that’s a good thing. In one study, type-2 diabetics who were treated with the cannabinoid THCV were found to have lower blood sugar and improved pancreatic function. Now researchers and pharmaceutical companies are further investigating whether this cannabinoid can aid in weight loss and treat diabetes.