In March, a team from Michigan State University, or MSU, put out a study in the International Journal of Epidemiology that looked at how marijuana users may not have as much weight as their sober counterparts. In the study, they looked at the body mass index, or BMI, of around 33,000 people aged 18 or older and studied their weight over about three years.
“Over a three-year period, all participants showed a weight increase, but interestingly, those who used marijuana had less of an increase compared to those that never used,” said Omayma Alshaarawy, lead author and an assistant professor of family medicine at MSU in a press release. “Our study builds on mounting evidence that this opposite effect occurs.”
Their study also found that users who start at a later time tend to stay the same weight and are less likely to be obese or overweight at all with Alshaarawy stating “We found that users, even those who just started, were more likely to be at a normal, healthier weight and stay at that weight. Only 15% of persistent users were considered obese compared to 20% of non-users.”
Comparing data collected by the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions, the researchers looked at the BMI of cannabis users and non-users and found that despite differences in lifestyles, there was still a correlation between weight gain, or lack thereof, and marijuana usage. Their research points to about a two-pound difference between users and non-users weight.
“An average 2-pound difference doesn’t seem like much, but we found it in more than 30,000 people with all different kinds of behaviors and still got this result,” Alshaarawy said.
Correlation or Causation?
However, while the science points toward a weight difference, the reasoning behind it is still a mystery.
“It could be something that’s more behavioral like someone becoming more conscious of their food intake as they worry about the munchies after cannabis use and gaining weight,” Alshaarawy said in the release. “Or it could be the cannabis use itself, which can modify how certain cells, or receptors, respond in the body and can ultimately affect weight gain. More research needs to be done.”
Nonetheless, Alshaarawy said that marijuana should not be used as a diet aid as “There [are] too many health concerns around cannabis that far outweigh the potential positive, yet modest, effects it has on weight gain. People shouldn’t consider it as a way to maintain or even lose weight.”
Still, while there may not be a weight risk involved with marijuana, the munchies are not going away.
Marijuana And The Munchies
If you have ever smoked marijuana, then you are probably familiar with the munchies, where your high brain suddenly wants all the junk food in the world.
The cause of the munchies is not entirely known, as research on cannabis is still relatively new, but scientists have looked into one of the most common side effects of smoking marijuana.
There isn’t one solid answer for why people get the munchies, but there some key chemicals and effects from THC that may be the cause. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is the active ingredient in cannabis that causes you to become “high.” After THC enters your body, it fits into receptors in the brain’s endocannabinoid system, which helps to control emotions, memory, pain sensitivity and appetite.
A 2014 study from Nature Neuroscience, found that THC may cause the brain’s olfactory bulb to increase a person’s smell and make food seem more appetizing. This was found after testing mice with THC and looking at the chemical reactions in relation to food.
The mice that were tested tended to get the “munchies” and eat more after being exposed to THC oils. Not only did those mice eat more than their sober test partners, but some of the mice lacked the brain chemistry necessary to get the munchies at all, which could be similar to people.
Mice are used due to their brains having a similar brain makeup as humans.
Some scientists also believe that the stimulation that THC causes probably impacts your appetite more than previously thought.
THC Lowers Your Inhibitions
THC causes an increased stimulation of dopamine to the brain, which is why it is pleasurable to humans, but that is also stimulates other parts of your brain. Normally, hormones in our brain only affect certain areas of the brain, but THC affects your entire brain.
Janice Newell Bissex, a registered dietitian told CNN that “THC interacts with receptors in our brain that regulate emotions, pain and our sense of smell and taste. It can also promote the release of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger.”
It is believed that the mix of dopamine and increased appetite can cause a person to lower their normal inhibitions toward certain food, meaning stoners are more likely to head for junk food.
“Lowering inhibitions is a big challenge with weed and alcohol,” Ginger Hultin, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, said. “People know what they should be eating, but all of a sudden, their inhibitions are down, and they are eating unhealthy foods.”
There has also been evidence pointing to THC causing the brain to ignore how full a person’s body may be and cause them to continue eating. This has lead scientists to previously believe that marijuana usage will cause weight gain, which the team at MSU have found not to be true.
While the munchies may not be the end all be all of bad side effects, for some the effect can be a lifesaver.
One of the primary arguments for legalizing the drug for medical uses is the fact that it increases appetite. Many cancer patients have turned to cannabis because chemotherapy often makes a person nauseous and can cause serious weight loss. Older people and those on certain medications have also benefited from wanting to eat more.
Still, the science around the munchies proves one thing, that more research needs to be done.
Due to its classification as a Schedule One drug, research in the past century has been severely limited, making scientists have to play catch up. Even in the past five years, the science around what caused the munchies has varied and is constantly evolving.
But hey, at least you don’t have to worry about smoking yourself into a bigger pants size.