Marijuana Slims? Why Pot Smokers Are Less Obese

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If cannabis causes the munchies, how is it possible that pot smokers are thinner than nonsmokers?

A new study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology finds an intriguing connection between marijuana use and body weight, showing that rates of obesity are lower by roughly a third in people who smoke pot at least three times a week, compared with those who don’t use marijuana at all.

Researchers analyzed data from two large national surveys of the American population, which together included some 52,000 participants. In the first survey, they found that 22% of those who did not smoke marijuana were obese, compared with just 14% of the regular marijuana smokers. The second survey found that 25% of nonsmokers were obese, compared with 17% of regular cannabis users.

The association between pot smoking and lower risk of obesity remained strong even after adjusting for other factors that could influence body fat and health, such as cigarette smoking, age and gender. But the correlation between weed and weight doesn’t mean that marijuana smoking actually causes weight loss.

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Many other factors could account for the connection. For example, some research finds that highly religious people are less likely to take drugs, but more likely to be obese — perhaps because they’re substituting one compulsive behavior (overeating) for the other (smoking marijuana). So, some of the obese people in the national surveys may be religious folk, who might otherwise be heavy marijuana smokers, but are eating too much instead. That could make it look like marijuana is slimming.

Also consider that one of the most popular uses of medical marijuana is to stimulate appetite in people with cancer, AIDS or other diseases. Such patients are significantly less likely to be obese than the general population — so in this case, weight loss would precede or prompt the marijuana smoking.

Whatever the explanation for the link between marijuana and less obesity, it’s unlikely that cannabis could serve as an effective diet aid. For one, smoking pot has been shown to increase appetite in multiple studies, at least in the short-term, so it likely wouldn’t help dieters resist temptation.

Secondly, a drug that has the opposite effect of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, has itself been shown to aid dieting. Called rimonabant, at high doses the drug nearly tripled the weight loss achieved by people taking placebo. It also frequently caused severe depression and suicidal thoughts, however, so while it was briefly approved by European authorities, it was ultimately pulled from the market.

MORE: Reverse Engineering the Marijuana ‘Munchies’: What Causes Binge Eating?

Of course, none of this explains why marijuana smokers in the national survey samples didn’t get fatter by taking a drug that can clearly stimulate appetite. One factor may be tolerance: many of marijuana’s effects are reduced in frequent users, as the body adjusts to it.

Another may be substitution — the smokers could be seeking comfort by smoking more marijuana, rather than eating more. Or, perhaps other ingredients in cannabis like cannabidiol (CBD) could reduce the appetite-increasing effects of THC in the same way that they reduce its paranoia-inducing properties.

Whatever the case, marijuana research never lacks for surprises!

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Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com. Find her on Twitter at @maiasz. You can also continue the discussion on TIME Healthland’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIMEHealthland.

36 comments
mscarborough
mscarborough

What about a potential rebound effect where your appetite is actually less when you're not high?  A dieter could conceivably train themselves to only desire food when they're high.  No high, no appetite.  That would be a pharmacologically induced state of anorexia; potentially dangerous, but less dangerous than being morbidly obese.

BeamRick
BeamRick

cannabis zero strain reduces appetite

CookieLipschitz
CookieLipschitz

This is the sort of thrown together bits of unrelated information that pass as "journalism" at Time these days. A quick literature search would have made this far more interesting. As mentioned, there is some interesting research regarding insulin sensitivity and cannabis use, along with many other points that could have been raised. So, Ms. Szlalavitz, do s bit more background...the bit about rimonabant was particularly silly and irrelevant.

ziptang
ziptang

People are medicating anxiety with pot instead of with food.

I can't believe that such a possibility was not considered.

DaveBostwick
DaveBostwick

Very simple,,, when I do get the "Munchies", at my age, 55 it's not about sugar and junk,, I can cook and devour a few balanced meals and get creative around the house with thing to keep me moving.

Smarter choices, you know, like Marijuana over alcohol or junk foods.

 


VVGG
VVGG

That is really bull s__t  and everything said it is not true becuase I have notice some people who smoke the pots and are not skinny... Guess what they are fat and not leaner...  that is impossible but I know they all want to spend the money on stupid pot!! STAY WAY FROM POT!!   KEEP EAT HEALTHY FOOD AND EXCERISE AND BE HAPPY YOURSELF THAT IS ALL MATTER !!!!

DeanSK
DeanSK

Forget about science analysis, pot smokers, they stay up late to party, they can walk all day in the streets, they eat more but they move more.  On the other hand, health freaks, don't smoke but they drinks lots of booze, therefore extra calories added to the belly - they seem to have more money than the potheads- and they usually, sitting at home in front of tv set and get fat.

floridamelbourne
floridamelbourne

Cannabis promotes homeostasis in a manner that is not fully understood, presumably by way of the endocannabinoid system. Do we have to understand how something works at the molecular level to benefit from it? Not according to evolution.

zombieapocalypsekitten
zombieapocalypsekitten

A study came out that pot increases insulin sensitivity and that might be why all the stoners look like Shaggy.  Also, I would imagine that stoners are getting more sleep on average which has been correlated with weight.

kaiba222
kaiba222

Whoever wrote this article sounds a bit biased

gregory.bloom
gregory.bloom

Most cannabis users are only high for a small percentage of their waking time.  The body adapts to the presence of cannabinoids by down-regulating the cannabinoid receptors.  This results in tolerance of the drug.  Downregulation of the cannabinoid receptors also results in long periods of lower-than-average cannabinoid system activity between uses of the drug.  Thus, when they are not actively high, users are effectively experiencing what rimonabant provided.  It seems likely this is how cannabis users can end up skinnier, despite enjoying something that increases appetite when they are high.

RobR1234
RobR1234

also ive realized as a regular smoker during sober parts of the day my appetite is severely diminished and when i do eat its just small portions

jefflebowski
jefflebowski

Pot is not a cheap drug. The majority of people who get diabetes in this country are poor people who get it from eating the only foods they can afford, mcdonalds and other fast food. Here's the correlation, if you can afford to smoke pot, you can also afford to eat a healthier diet. I don't see any correlation beyond that. 

ronwa62
ronwa62

While I agree that many people I know lean towards being either regular drinkers or regular smokers, what I think is being most underestimated so far in this conversation is that pot smokers at least in my experience, tend to be more educated about what is good and healthy for them in mind, body and spirit.  And ultimately, what has most to do with how small or large you are - your diet!  The whole growth in this society of learning about what foods have the best nutritional value; or how to work towards the right balance of nutrition; the dawning and continual expansion of the health food industry; it all originated with new-agey, hippie-folk types - yes, potheads!  What percentage of people that frequent Whole Foods or Trader Joe's do you think are pot smokers?  I wonder what the difference is for percentage of people who are vegetarians between pot smokers and non-pot smokers?  The more I think about it, I realize there is no mystery at all to the numbers in this study.

timok
timok

There are some interesting theories for this association in the comments, and they're more plausible than any the author of this article proposes. Here's another theory:

It might be diet that differs between Cannabis users and non-users. People usually eat foods high in fat and sugar because they enjoy it. It would be substantially easier to eat healthy if healthy foods were more enjoyable. It's well known that Cannabis increases the enjoyment of eating. Perhaps users of Cannabis can get the same enjoyment from eating a healthy diet as non-users get from an unhealthy diet. If that's true, it would be much easier for a Cannabis user to maintain a healthy diet as the normal drive to eat unhealthy foods could be fulfilled by healthy foods. A change in diet to lower calorie foods could more than make up for any increase in appetite.

madworld
madworld

you are all morons I'm a heavy user that lost willingly 25 kg because pot helped me discern and suppress the hunger pains, the same ones that in the beginning give you the munchies that you can't control, with time you are able to do so.

JennyJean
JennyJean

I agree with Sarah about people who smoke really not being drinkers. Unless of course they are severe alcoholics then normally weed's just and after thought and it happens when they are drinking. But... people who smoke normally scoff at how much people drink and often start to build up judgment against drinkers. I think it gives us confidence that weed smoking is healthier than drinking. Drinkers start to look wasted the following days, skin starts to sag a little too. We notice that!! But.... The reason why I am commenting is to point out that, weed smokers are less obese because we smoke weed instead of eating. Often. True, that catches up to us with munchies. But often wait till 11:00-1:00 in the afternoon to go, "Oh, I haven't eaten anything today? I was too busy being busy." It's not a conscious behavior, but smokers like to smoke when they wake up and when they get home, which can put meal time off for hours. And yes, I am an expert. And open to questions. Signed, Colorado Smoker Since Age 12 - Successful mom (honor roll students who still love to play with dolls) and still pushing a top 2% IQ. 

p.s. We don't believe in 12 year olds smoking. Colorado smokers have this fun rule that it should be done in private. Smoking cigarettes became illegal in public too years ago. So, we are accustomed to smoking outside like cig smokers or in our bedroom, or when kids are at school or asleep. Pot smokers are normally really nice people who think on a higher level of "Big Picture" cause/effect. Long story/short, I smoked when I was 12 because I was a bad kid. It could have been worse. But my kiddos have never seen a puff of smoke in their lives, 10 years and counting. They don't even know the term. Our city is known as one of the most conservative cities in America. Yet, pot is legal, Hmmm.. Imagine that. We're also ranked as one of the most intelligent states now as well when it comes to IQ and education levels. BOOM!

SarahOrmerod
SarahOrmerod

Another thing they left out is that the average person that smokes doesn't drink alcohol often, while the average alcohol drinker doesn't very often.  Very rarely do you find someone that does both regularly.

alyxkerr
alyxkerr

Raw Cannabis is the best medicine! Dietary Cannabis Juicing, Sprouting, Micro-greens and Cannabinoid Boiling point dosing info:www.rawhemp.tk

johnnymorton1234
johnnymorton1234

Amazing that the study didn't take into account the obvious - there is a good chance that if you don't smoke significant amounts of pot you are probably consuming a lot of alcohol as another way of removing yourself from the reality of life.  Consuming alcohol (vs smoking pot) contributes more to obesity as the overall caloric intake is much greater for drinkers than for smokers (even if smokers "gets the munchies").  Alcohol calories are the worst calories one can consume.  At the end of the day, America would have a much lower rate of obesity if marijuana was made legal everywhere because people could smoke pot instead of consume alcohol.  

rachel.betts.anderson
rachel.betts.anderson

Really? You think emaciated AIDS patients, who might make up .5% (a generous estimate) of the smokers, are skewing the data?  What drivel!

CookieLipschitz
CookieLipschitz

Wonderfully considered comment. "Smoke the pots"? what country are you from, just out of curiosity?

Dingus.Mungus
Dingus.Mungus

@DeanSK  "Pot smokers... stay up late to party," I've smoked every single day for the past 15 months and have been up at 5am every day for the past six. My friends, who are also heavy users, also have jobs to be at early in the morning. In fact, I don't know a lot of stoners who ARE night people. Since I've started using medicinal marijuana, I haven't pulled an all-nighter in the 15 months of use, I'm down 40 pounds, and I still have a steady job that pays me the same as fat, slovenly alcoholics, only I don't come into work reeking of whatever liquids I ingested the night before.

DeanSK
DeanSK

@floridamelbourne  When I was younger, I smoked, drunk, always hungry with pot or no pot , I partied all night, most nights and had lots of sex, i was poorer, I walked more so I was leaner. Now I am older, having more money, don't smoke and always having a big feast dinners at my place or at friends', having less sex, have a car and walk less.  Looking at people around me, they are all fatty.  I don't need scientific breakdowns to understand this.  Those scientists work in a team and get paid 100K plus each from our tax money to come up with ideas like this to pretend that they are working and living on our tax money.

BarleySinger
BarleySinger

@timok healthy food already tastes better than the rubbish that comes out of factories. All that sugar and salt are added to try and make up for the good taste of proper nutrition (lacking in it). Trouble is :

* most people no longer know how to cook real food. They rely on microwaved everything (machines that destroy most nutritional content and created odd free radicals)

* houses and apartments are now built with kitchens one cannot really cook in (and have no pantry space either)
* cooking does take some time, and people are forced to work too many (unproductive) hours, plus living in a poisoned world on too little sleep makes people exhausted (easier to eat something pre-prepared)

* there was also a generational social issue in here. I've know people close to my age whose mothers refused to cook real food at all (even single mothers) as it was (to them) a 'symbol of oppression (they were 'career people'). Meanwhile the males were still mostly buying into the idea that cooking was for females. SO neither group wanted to cook anything worth eating and they relied on prepackaged junk.

take note here, my dad is 88 and in good health. None of us kids are healthy people. Then again his childhood was one with all organic food because ***nothing else was around*** and the largest impact on long term health for agro chemicals is in kids.

SarahOrmerod
SarahOrmerod

excuse me the average alcohol user doesn't smoke very often.  I've noticed it's usually either one or the other in society.

BarleySinger
BarleySinger

@johnnymorton1234  There is signiifant evidence that the US is fat because food is now low in nutrition and made to taste better with additive, salt and sugar - BUT the normal sugars have been replaced by GM factory made High Fructose Corn syrup. HFCS becomes fat far easier then it is burned (first it is fat, then you use it), it also suppress the "I'm full" felling (produces lepton resistance) and also creates insulin resistance (prediabetic metoboilic syndrome). Almost every item in a US supermarket that is not fresh (fruit and veg), or a staple (like dried rice and beans) has lots of HFCS in it. HFCS is now the single largest sweetener used in the west, despite all the evidence against it.

maxwood
maxwood

I think johnny has a good point about alcohol.  One reason for the opposition to cannabis is that a substantial part of the "economy" makes a profit off the carelesssness with money of binge drinkers and alcoholics (such as the gateway effect: they get hooked on cigarettes).  Obesity pays off in bigger medical bills in later life which could be prevented if cannabis prevented the obesity.

maxwood
maxwood

Sarah is right.  Another hypothesis, too, is that cannabinoids tune up the creative imagination, and a person "finds" interesting ways to exercise-- including isometrics or fidgets or just plain intellectual activity you might not notice--  that would burn up calories.