Smoking Weed for Weight Loss: Does it Work?
What to know before toking up.
You’ve probably heard that ongoing punchline about how stoners always have the munchies. But is it actually true? Maybe.
Research shows that smoking marijuana does affect the mechanisms that trigger hunger in our brain: receptors in our brain trigger the release of hormones that make us feel famished, causing us to gobble up everything in sight.
But even though there’s evidence to support the Cheetos-munching stoner stereotype, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely true. Other studies have shown that smoking pot doesn’t lead to weight gain.
In fact, people who regularly smoke get high off weed are less likely to be overweight or obese compared to those who don’t, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The study included more than 30,000 participants. All put on weight during the three year study, but those who smoked weed gained the fewest pounds. This was determined by comparing Body Mass Index for participants in the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions study.
Researchers tied to that study theorize that cannabis may create cellular changes that impact weight gain.
And this isn’t the only study that indicates stoners may weigh less than people who don’t smoke. A 2011 study from the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that even if weed consumption increases appetite, “people using cannabis are less likely to be obese than people who do not use cannabis.” Other studies indicate that many cannabis users have trimmer waistlines than non-users, as well as lower cholesterol levels. What’s more, these results have proven to be true regardless of sample size or factors like age and gender.
So why else might this be the case? Researchers speculate it’s because of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that causes people to be “high.” To test the link between THC and weight loss, researchers at the University of Calgary 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, it did cause 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.
Other studies in Poland, Italy, Hungary, Canada and the UK have replicated these findings, leading some researchers to conclude that there is “a correlation between cannabis use and reduction in the BMI,” said Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Washington-based physician and cannabis researcher. “This association holds even after controlling for other variables,” such as age, gender, or why a person is smoking marijuana to begin with (so for instance, a cancer patient who uses marijuana as a method of pain relief).
That said, there’s also some evidence indicating that marijuana’s effects on weight fluctuation are more complicated than Aggarwal would suggest. Didier Jutras-Aswad, a professor of neuroscience at University of Montreal, has studied how cannabis affects the functions of neurobiological circuits controlling appetite.
“It is known … that cannabis causes temporary increase in appetite,” which can indeed lead to weight gain, he said. Yet he conceded that “as to whether it actually causes weight gain in the long term, the available data is limited.”
It’s important to note that cannabis isn’t a prescription for weight loss: If you don’t exercise and have unhealthy eating habits, then smoking weed probably won’t help you have a lower BMI. Plus, you also want to consider that smoking weed is tied to breathing problems, psychosis, and mania-like symptoms in people with bipolar disorder. In fact, research suggests that smoking marijuana can lead to chronic bronchitis even injure the cell linings on your lungs, according to the American Lung Association.
Bottom line: there’s no evidence suggesting weed will help with your physique goals. The best way to lose weight is by following a diet plan that works for you.
Contrary to popular belief, smoking pot doesn't lead to weight gain — according to a few studies. In fact, weed might even help you maintain your weight.
Can Marijuana Make You Gain Weight?
A prevailing stereotype of marijuana users is that they always have the munchies. A body of evidence suggests that long-term cannabis use can lead to weight gain, particularly in men. With that being said, its effects on weight differ by plant strain, dose, route of administration, and frequency of use.
How Marijuana Influences Weight Gain
Different strains of marijuana will have varying concentrations of cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), and terpenes. These psychoactive chemicals act on CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain that make up the endocannabinoid system, which plays a key role in regulating appetite, stress, and pain sensations, among a host of other factors that impact weight gain.
Whether smoked or eaten, cannabis affects the neurobiological circuits that control appetite, causing a temporary increase in the “munchies”. According to a 2015 study from the Yale University School of Medicine, activation of the CB1 receptor acted on by THC increases feeding behaviors and leads to decreased activity of the neurons responsible for feelings of satiety.
The effect is known to be considerable and one that can be used in medical practice to stimulate appetite in people with cancer, advanced HIV infection, and other serious medical conditions.
Appetite stimulation doesn’t inherently translate into weight gain, however. Within the HIV population, marijuana may help stifle weight loss but does little to reverse the wasting that can accompany serious illness.
What this suggests is that appetite stimulation is only part of what triggers weight gain in certain cannabis users.
Effect on Athletic Performance
Cannabis users have been observed to show marked decreases in performance, steadiness, reaction time, and psychomotor performance for up to six hours following use. This can make exercises like rock climbing or heavy-weight lifting more dangerous, a deterrent which, along with the muscle-relaxing properties of particular strains, may promote weight gain simply by decreasing a person’s capacity for exercise.
According to research, THC significantly elevates the resting heart rate (RHR) and blood pressure during and after physical training, decreasing a person’s overall tolerance for exercise.
That said, cannabis has also been shown to decrease pain and to inhibit exercise-induced asthma , which could make it a helpful adjunct to simple exercises that chronically ill patients otherwise couldn’t do.
If many pain patients switch to medical cannabis for pain management in places where it is legal at the state level, it will become important to research these effects more thoroughly.
Even in cases where light exercise may not be negatively impacted by cannabis use, it is still not likely to lead to peak performance.
Body Mass Index (BMI)
Peripheral cannabinoid receptors activated by THC are involved in regulating pancreatic function and lipid metabolism. According to research published in 2015 by the American Diabetes Association, compared to non-users, cannabis smokers tend to have a higher percentage of abdominal visceral fat and increased insulin resistance, in addition to lower plasma HDL cholesterol.
It has been suggested, that strains of cannabis that are high to moderately high in THC are more likely to trigger weight gain, particularly among regular users.
Among healthy people who regularly use cannabis, there is a significant difference in how the drug influences weight if you are male or female.
A study conducted in 2015 by researchers at the University of Montreal found that cannabis use triggered significant and consistent weight gain in men, but not in women.
Although the reason for this remains unclear, the scientists suggested that differences in neurobiological targets, as well as general psychology, played a part.
A Word From Verywell
Although the association between weight gain and marijuana use is anything but conclusive, there is enough evidence to suggest that it can influence weight in certain people, especially frequent users who are male, who use cannabis strains higher in THC, or who have other risk factors for obesity or metabolic syndrome.
If you believe you have a marijuana addiction problem, contact the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at 800-622-2255 for a referral to a treatment center in your area.
Marijuana is known to cause the munchies by stimulating appetite. Research has shown that it can increase weight and body fat in certain people.