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Feast or famine: The effect of marijuana on weight

If you're watching your weight, should you cut down your cannabis consumption? (Getty Images)
If you're watching your weight, should you cut down your cannabis consumption? (Getty Images)
Tracy Damon EVERCANNABIS Correspondent
Your new year’s resolution for 2020 was to lose weight. And this time, you really are committed to making it happen. But here’s the dilemma: When trying to drop the pounds, do you stop using pot because it gives you the munchies or do you increase your intake because, for some, it acts as an appetite suppressant? “It depends,” according to Dr. Jon Davis, Ph.D., assistant professor at Washington State University’s Department of Integrative Physiology & Neuroscience. “(Cannabis’ potential to act as an appetite suppressant) hasn’t been well studied at all. There’s not enough information to make a statement one way or the other on it,” said Davis, who specializes in feeding and drug addiction at WSU’s Alcohol and Drug Abuse Research Program. What Davis does know is that a lot depends on you when it comes to marijuana and its effect on body mass. Your metabolism, health, age, sex, the strain of cannabis you use, how much sleep you get, and other factors all play in to whether marijuana contributes to your personal weight loss or gain. Davis cites a 2014 study, published in the journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, that looked at two subject groups who used marijuana: the general population and those with disease-based anorexia. The low-weight group gained weight while the general population group did not. This may leave you curious if there’s any truth to the old “case of the munchies” stereotype. Davis acknowledges that marijuana affects the mechanisms that trigger hunger in our brain and can definitely cause you to raid the pantry. He says the munchies are a delayed effect of cannabis, though. “One thing we’ve noticed in our lab is when you give cannabis to an animal, it doesn’t immediately go over and start eating. It’s not until about an hour later that they get hungry and then that only lasts two or three hours, so it’s a delayed effect.” Two of the main effects of marijuana use are euphoria and appetite stimulation. Davis believes euphoria initially overpowers the body’s hunger response. But once the euphoria starts to wear off, users notice that they are hungry. Only lasting a couple hours usually at most, that hunger may not initiate a large enough calorie intake to make a lasting impact on body weight. But for chronic users of marijuana, wouldn’t that pattern repeated over and over again eventually result in weight gain? Davis says cannabis use can be like alcohol use – people who drink regularly are affected differently than those who drink rarely or occasionally. “It’s been shown that people who use cannabis regularly have reduced receptors for cannabinoids, so a tolerance develops.” Cannabinoids are compounds found in the marijuana plant; THC and CBD being the best known. So if you’re a regular consumer, you may no longer get the munchies, or to the same degree, that new or occasional users do. While that could be good news for the waistlines of pot lovers, continued use of weed still may not be great for your health. “It definitely can impact blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyclerides (a kind of fat found in the blood stream),” said Davis. “A nerve called the vagus nerve controls heart rate. Stimulation of that nerve (such as with marijuana use) increases blood pressure.” While cannabis use may not make you gain weight, can it help you lose weight? Another question with an unclear answer. Some growers are now marketing marijuana strains specifically for weight loss, usually those with tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), a lesser known cannabinoid. While THC is known for stimulating appetite and is responsible for the munchies, THCV is believed to act as an appetite suppressant. CBD is believed to have a similar effect, only without the euphoria that comes with strains that contain THC. Again, though, Davis stresses that there isn’t enough knowledge at this time on how effective either THCV or CBD are as weight loss proponents. With cannabis still illegal at the federal level, few studies have been completed, due to a lack of both funding and time. “You have to have a Schedule 1 license to have the plant and that takes 18 months. We’re built off publication and don’t have the luxury of that kind of time,” said Davis. He also says that is beginning to change and WSU is one of the only labs in the world that has looked at marijuana use in conjunction with feeding. “But we still need time to understand the physiological and plant-based mechanism.”
Tracy Damon is a Spokane-based freelancer who has been writing professionally for 20 years. She has been covering i502 issues since recreational cannabis became legal in Washington.
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