Does weed make you lose weight? How one study sparked the debate
A study published in 2019 found lower rates of obesity in those who smoke marijuana.
However, the authors of the study said that the link did not mean a causal relationship and weed shouldn’t be used as a weight-loss tool.
Marijuana is used at least once a month by 8.4% of Americans aged 15 to 64. Of these, 37% use cannabis for medical reasons.
While smoking weed is often associated with an increased appetite, i.e. the “munchies,” a study in 2019 sparked the question: Could smoking marijuana help people lose weight and combat the negative health effects of obesity? Here’s what you need to know about weed and weight loss.
Using marijuana does not directly cause weight loss
A three-year study published in the October 2019 issue of the International Journal of Epidemiology indicated lower rates of obesity, on average, in those who smoke marijuana.
However, the authors of the study cautioned that weed should not be relied upon as a weight loss aid as their study did not indicate a clear causal relationship between marijuana and weight loss. To find out more about the science behind weed and weight loss, Insider spoke to Jordan Tishler, a medical doctor, an Instructor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School.
Regarding the October 2019 study’s results, Tishler says “Clearly, this is not proof of anything, but is interesting.” He adds that, “there are no studies on using cannabis to cause weight loss.”
In fact, there are only five FDA-approved substances that have been scientifically proven to directly cause people to lose weight beyond basic calorie-restriction, and marijuana is not one of them.
Evidence that marijuana can even indirectly lead to weight loss is weak. “There is one cannabinoid, which is relatively rare, called THCV that does seem, in rodents, to decrease appetite. However, this has not been shown in humans,” says Tishler.
Cannabis may cause you to eat more, not less
Using marijuana can cause behavioral changes, such as munchies, that can, on an individual level, lead to weight gain. The “munchies” refers to the phenomenon where people who have used cannabis experience a surge of hunger thought to be caused by the chemical THC in the drug.
And while the munchies is largely a phenomenon shown in Hollywood films and known simply through personal experience, there is some scientific research to indicate that marijuana can, indeed, increase appetite and, as a result, may increase body mass in individuals who consume excess calories beyond their energy needs on any given day.
So, for some, not smoking weed may be a better choice when it comes to weight loss. “If cannabis use for you leads to munchies, and you have a tendency to satisfy those munchies with high-calorie foods, then stopping cannabis may be necessary,” says Tishler.
And if you can’t stop because you’re using marijuana for a medical issue, then Tishler recommends making sure you have plenty of healthy foods around for when the munchies hit. Fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, like chicken, fish, and yogurt, are more satiating options than the stereotypical junk foods often used in these scenarios.
“I always tell my patients that if they have a bag of Doritos, they will eat it. If, on the other hand, they only have access to carrots, they’ll eat those instead. Hence, buy carrots, not Doritos,” says Tishler.
A study published in 2019 found lower rates of obesity in people who smoked weed. But that doesn't mean weed makes you lose weight. Here's why.