“The prevalence of obesity was significantly lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.”
—American Journal of Epidemiology, Oxford University Press, August, 2011
So concluded researchers from the first large-scale study of marijuana use and obesity. They analyzed data from 50,000 U.S. adults, controlled for participants’ sociodemographic characteristics (age, education, ethnicity, etc.), and found a marked difference in obesity rates: less than 17% among cannabis users versus 25% among nonusers, and the most frequent smokers (3X per week or more) were the slimmest of them all.
The study pretty much turns on its ear everything you thought you knew about the munchies. And there have been others:
- a 2013 study from the Harvard School of Public Health, published in the American Journal of Medicine shows that pot smokers, on average, have smaller waists and higher levels of ‘good’ cholesterol than non-pot smokers. Again, the biggest winners were the heaviest users.
- The research journal Obesity published a study this year linking lower body mass index and lower insulin levels, both markers for diabetes, with cannabis use.
- The British Medical Journal reports that current abstainers who merely have a history of marijuana use are at a lower risk of contracting type 2 diabetes than those with no history of cannabis consumption.
Can you think of a more counterintuitive diet aid than marijuana?
The munchies are a well-documented phenomenon. Rigorous, double-blind, controlled studies only confirm what generations of stoners and chemotherapy patients know: smoking weed makes you hungry. And not regular hungry but craving food of the sweet, salty, or fatty variety. Marijuana perks up the taste and hunger receptors in your brain and body; flavors are heightened on the tongue as happy-making mood compounds course through your body, and your brain craves more, more, more. It’s why even brownies made from a boxed mix will taste so damn good when you’re stoned.
Actually, marijuana isn’t all that far-fetched as a diet aid.
For starters, obesity researchers know that a diet of foods laden with concentrated sugars and refined starches can act on the brain in much the same way. Chronic overeaters are essentially looking to stimulate the same reward centers as marijuana smokers. Basically, cannabis users are less inclined to overindulge in food in that way because they already have their own high.
An easy benefit to understand is the impact of body temperature on weight regulation. Cannabis elevates the body’s core temperature and increases blood flow. The effect on the metabolism is similar to what happens during exercise—metabolic processes speed up and burn off more calories, and continue to do so for an hour or two after smoking—seemingly enough to counteract the munchies and then some. Less is understood about marijuana’s role in regulating the body’s blood sugar levels and insulin, but trial data has many in the medical community convinced that a marijuana derivative will someday be part of the everyday health regimen for people with diabetes.
Marijuana just might be the antidote to the national obesity epidemic.
Researchers from San Diego State University and Cornell University, publishing in last month’s journal of Health Economics, found that when a state passes a medical marijuana law, the probability of obesity drops by 2 to 6 percent and generates savings in obesity-related medical costs of $58 to $115 per citizen, per year. As compelling as the evidence might be, it’s nearly impossible to fund and conduct research and drug trials as long as marijuana remains an illegal substance on the national level.