Updated: Dec 22, 2019
When we think of weight management, the last thing we would probably think of is Cannabis.
However, a 2011 Obesity and Cannabis study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that obesity rates were lower in Cannabis smokers than in non users. Those that consumed 3 or more times per week were 40% less likely to be obese than those with no Cannabis use in the past 12 months.
Seems totally counterintuitive, right? Haven’t we been told that Cannabis causes the
munchies? How could Cannabis consumers weigh less than non-Cannabis users?
Here are 3 studies and hypotheses as to how Cannabis may be effective in weight management.
Cannabis and THC for Weight Loss was published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2013. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in Cannabis and is most responsible for the increased munchies. However, this study found that long term use of THC may actually lead to the opposite effect. How? Let’s take a closer look at the Endocannabinoid system which is comprised of Endocannabinoids like Anandamide (aka the Bliss Molecule) and 2 AG plus Cannabinoid receptors (CB1 & CB2) located throughout the body. CB1 receptors are found in the brain & nervous system, as well as in the peripheral organs and tissues, and are the main target of THC. In this study, researchers hypothesized that repeated CB1 receptor stimulation from THC use can lead to desensitization of its effects. Similar to caffeine, we can build a tolerance to THC. When endocannabinoids our body makes like 2-AG bind to CB1 receptors, it releases appetite stimulating hormones...hello munchies! However, continued Cannabis use leads to an oversaturation of THC preventing 2-AG from binding to CB1 receptors eventually suppressing appetite.
The second study comes from the University of Calgary published in PLOS ONE, where researchers examined obese mice and mice at a regular weight, both of which were given THC daily. The researchers found that while THC did not have any effect on the size of the mice who were already at a regular weight, but it actually caused the obese mice to lose weight. The researchers hypothesized that this was because THC caused changes in the gut microbiome that helped regulate weight loss and digestion. The scientists also monitored changes in their intestinal flora, a.k.a. the beneficial microorganisms living in their intestines that play important roles in digestion, immunity, and obesity. Cannabis may have some protective effects against high levels of intestinal microbes associated with obesity. A high Firmicutes: Bacteroidetes ratio is characteristic of obesity and recent evidence has demonstrated this skewed ratio can be restored in mice treated with THC. In addition, THC increases the abundance of the bacterial species Akkermansia muciniphila, which controls fat storage and metabolism to facilitate weight loss. While people may turn to Cannabis for weight management, they may also experience improvements in their overall digestion.
Lastly, here is my own personal hypothesis as to how Cannabis has been effective in my own weight loss experiment. It has to do with the Endocannabinoid System and its effects on biological Homeostasis. THC & CBD act as neuromodulators assisting in the regulation of physiological and cognitive processes including appetite, metabolism, mood, memory, and pain sensation. Endocannabinoids effectively modulate the flow of neurotransmitters, promoting homeostasis which maintains physiological stability. I was someone who suffered from chronic stress and my nervous system was in constant “fight or flight” mode, thus impairing digestion, metabolism, and weight loss. This also triggered hormones like cortisol that increased cravings and belly fat. Little did I know, that because of my chronic stress, I had an endocannabinoid deficiency that made homeostasis more challenging. My body just didn’t have the energy to lose weight, it was too busy trying too hard to stay in balance and survive. Weight management had been a problem for me up until my early 30s. I tried every diet and even became a fitness instructor when I was 20, hoping that if I learned everything about exercise and nutrition, than I would lose the weight forever. Needless to say, I became even more obsessed & stressed about body image and diet. Even though I had a “healthy lifestyle,” it was hard to lose weight and keep it off. When I learned how to use Cannabis therapeutically, weight management became effortless.
These are all hypotheses, as research is limited because Cannabis is still classified as a Schedule 1 drug. With federal legalization, we will be able to conduct the necessary clinical trials to explore Cannabis more. Medicinally, we still need more research on how Cannabis effects weight management. Recreationally, Cannabis can be a calorie free alternative to alcohol. If you get the munchies, sip water because it may just be dry mouth which is a side effect. There's also other ways to consume Cannabis so you can benefit therapeutically without getting high. This is why it's important to have an experienced guide in this journey.
I’m not suggesting that Cannabis is the “magic pill” because what’s most important is a balanced healthy lifestyle. If we don’t manage stress, exercise and eat healthy, then Cannabis can be ineffective in meeting our weight loss goals. However, it may complement the work we’re already doing by regulating appetite, gut microbiome, and physiological homeostasis.
Just in time for the New Year, we are running a 12 Week Cannabis Fitness Transformation Program! Starting January 6th! Limited spots available. Click here to schedule a discovery session! https://calendly.com/theupliftmovement/60min
Let’s set up a consultation to see if Cannabis can support your weight management efforts.
*Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.