Updated on June 15, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
Medical cannabis can be especially helpful for the goal of weight loss. You may already know that one of the main characteristics of cannabis is it can increase your desire to eat. However, what you probably don’t realize is there are also strains that can help you lose weight. Sure, marijuana often associates with “the munchies,” which could indeed lead to weight gain. But some studies indicate medical marijuana and weight loss is possible. Let’s learn more about this.
Medical Marijuana as an Alternative Treatment for Weight Loss
First, let’s take a look at how marijuana affects the body. Your endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays an essential role in your body beyond interacting with cannabis.
Endocannabinoids are cannabis-like substances produced inside our bodies naturally.
The endocannabinoid system consists of three parts:
- Receptors spread out through your body and nervous system that bond with cannabinoids and endocannabinoids.
- Enzymes which help break cannabinoids and endocannabinoids down.
Your ECS isn’t just a natural part of your body — it’s a vital one. Marijuana and its two main cannabinoids, cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) have medicinal properties. Medical research suggests the scope and size of the endocannabinoid system has a lot to do with the far-reaching effects of the herb and these two cannabinoids.
Your body is continuously working to monitor essential functions and levels in your body. When something operates outside of the proper range, the body immediately activates the ECS to correct it. For example, when you become hot and begin sweating, it’s your ECS that works to cool you down. If your stomach starts to growl, that’s just your ECS reminding you to eat.
Your endocannabinoid system does this through cannabinoid receptors found in certain tissues. You have, at a minimum, two cannabinoid receptor types:
- CB1 receptor: Found in the spinal cord nerves and brain (central nervous system)
- CB2 receptor: Found in the nerves in your extremities (peripheral nervous system), specific cells in your immune system and your digestive system
It’s thought cannabinoid receptors are most plentiful in the central nervous system, and some researchers theorize we may even have a third as-yet-undiscovered receptor as well.
The ECS uses these receptors to regulate essential functions including the appetite and digestion.
“Marijuana diet” might sound contradictory given the herb is known for its notorious “munchies” side effect, which often causes many regular users to consume more calories than those who don’t use the herb. However, studies recently have indicated otherwise.
The American Journal of Medicine conducted one such study, surveying 4,657 adults. Out of these adults, 579 claimed to be regular marijuana users. The study found individuals who used marijuana a minimum of three to five times weekly had 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels. Other studies have had similar results.
Some theorize medical weed regulates weight because it interferes with the brain’s cannabinoid receptors that regulate memory and appetite. When CBD triggers these receptors, it leads to a lapse in memory and the well-known insatiable appetite. However, over time, these receptors may start becoming desensitized, making regular marijuana users less likely to experience weight gain.
Others suggest obese individuals overeat because the process triggers the brain’s reward center, particularly when the chosen foods contain hefty amounts of refined starches and concentrated sugars. So, in a sense, the act of overeating acts like a drug, because it stimulates the same brain area — regular users of cannabis don’t need to overindulge like this because they have their own “high.”
The American Journal of Epidemiology published a report in 2011 that showed rates of obesity are around a third lower in people who smoked medical pot regularly than in those who didn’t smoke the herb at all. Additionally, cannabis also helps with stress, and stress is a common cause of obesity.
How Medical Marijuana Treats Weight Loss
No matter how much smoking of medical marijuana for weight loss you do, and no matter what strains you use, consuming a large number of calories every day without burning them off will lead to weight gain.
Some cannabis strains have been shown to help control appetite due to the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). THCV is a CB1 and CB2 receptor antagonist, meaning it blocks THC and prevents you from becoming high and getting the munchies. While it is still psychoactive like THC, it seems to take effect quicker, and the high you get is much shorter lived.
Some appetite-suppressing strains with THCV you could try are:
- Durban Poison: This strain is popular and comes from South Africa. It offers an earthy, sweet flavor packed with a ton of energy, thereby helping you stay active.
- Green Crack: Known for its sweet taste and quick high, this strain is growing in popularity. It received its name from Snoop Dogg due to its high-strung, quick-acting effects and short-lived high.
- Super Silver Haze: A cross between Haze, Northern Lights and Skunk #1, Super Silver Haze is a sativa-dominant strain offering a clear-headed cognitive high.
Although Super Silver Haze is categorized as a sativa, its parent strain, Northern Lights, does have indica qualities such as sleepiness hitting several hours after smoking. So, if you plan on using Super Silver Haze, be sure you stay active after using the strain to help keep your motivation.
Sativa cannabis strains, in general, are known for bringing more energy and focus. They don’t make you sleepy or keep you stoned for hours. Instead, they do the opposite, making them ideal marijuana and weight loss strains.
Try a sativa strain before a workout to help boost your energy levels and achieve your fitness goals more quickly.
Side Effects of Medical Marijuana
Cannabis can potentially produce certain physical and psychological side effects. Not everyone will experience the same side effects and what you experience will depend on the strain of marijuana you use and the method in which you use it.
It’s good to know the potential side effects in any event. Remember the side effects of the herb are typically much milder than those you’d experience with prescription medicines.
Some side effects of marijuana for weight loss you could experience are:
- Anxiety: Smoking cannabis could potentially produce paranoia episodes. Usually, this is mild and causes nothing more than a slight feeling of unease.
- Insomnia: While some report sleep problems with cannabis, there’s no strong evidence proving the herb causes sleep problems.
- Red eyes: This harmless side effect that only lasts as long as the other effects of weed.
- Short-term memory loss: There’s an association between marijuana and memory loss. But, the effects are short-term and go away once treatment has worn off.
The Best Ways to Use Medical Marijuana for Weight Loss
The ideal cannabis consumption method is your own choice. You have many delivery options to pick from, and each will have its impact on how cannabis affects you. Here are several ways to receive your treatment:
- Smoking: Smoking is a common way of using cannabis. However, smoking is likely harmful to your health. As with tobacco smoke, smoking weed produces toxins and tars you inhale along with the herb. You may wish to try vaping instead if you must inhale your cannabis treatment.
- Edibles: You may want to avoid high-caloric edibles that could contribute to weight gain, such as brownies for instance. However, indulging in a small treat infused with your favorite sativa strain can be just what you need to stay energized and motivated, without having to smoke the herb.
- Pure CBD: Pure CBD is a method of treatment becoming increasingly popular. You take CBD pills and oils like you would a pharmaceutical medication.
What Is Weight Loss?
Obesity is a growing concern throughout the U.S. as nearly 35 percent of all American adults are obese. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) credits obesity as responsible for roughly 112,000 deaths in the U.S. each year. Obesity among children is another growing concern in the U.S. with an obesity rate of 18.5 percent among children between the ages of 2 and 19.
Weight loss is a process by which people lose weight. People choose to lose weight for a variety of reasons, the most common of which are related to improving health and appearance. Healthy weight loss often is based on goals of reaching a body max index (BMI) of between 18.5 and 24.9, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Causes of Being Overweight
Most people who are overweight have reached this point through a combination of dietary choices and sedentary lifestyles. We are no longer a hunter-gatherer people that burns as many calories getting our food as we consume while eating it.
The wide availability of high-calorie and heavily-processed foods that pack on the pounds, coupled with jobs that are decreasingly physical, contributes widely to the growing obesity problem. Other factors may play a role in obesity, such as:
- Medical conditions
- Genetic predispositions
- Socio-economic issues
- Lack of sleep or insomnia
Because many factors can contribute, it never hurts to work in conjunction with a trusted physician to create an effective weight loss plan and to determine if there may be underlying causes of your current weight and health circumstances.
Symptoms of Being Overweight
Medically, obesity is a state in which your BMI exceeds certain standards. A normal BMI is no greater than 24.9 while a BMI of 25 to 29.9 indicates you are overweight. Beyond that, there are three classes of obesity based on BMI:
- 30-34.9: Obese (Class I)
- 25-39.9: Obese (Class II)
- 40 or greater: Extreme Obesity (Class III)
Because obesity is a condition that can affect your physical and emotional health, depression, social isolation, underachieving in the workplace and lack of confidence are all other symptoms that people who are overweight may experience.
Complications of Being Overweight
There are many health complications associated with being overweight. Some would argue that obesity, from a health perspective, can be as harmful as tobacco.
- Reduced quality of life: Diminished interest in activities and lack of confidence severely limit the quality of life you experience when obese.
- Greater risk of poor health conditions: This includes potentially lethal conditions like type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and some forms of cancer.
- Mental health disorders: This includes conditions such as depression, anxiety, and others.
- Sleep apnea: There is a strong correlation between obesity and sleep apnea which can disrupt sleep when untreated, leading to even greater risks of obesity.
- Pain: Whether from osteoarthritis or the added weight you carry around daily placing a strain on your back, joints, and muscles, pain is often a constant presence in those who are obese.
- Sexual dysfunction: Whether the result of health conditions related to obesity or a lack of confidence stemming from your weight, sexual dysfunction is yet another complication related to obesity.
Obesity is a condition that affects people on many fronts — not just what shows up on the scales. Because of this, it’s important to consider the physical, mental and emotional aspects of the condition as well.
Current Medical Treatments for Weight Loss
Americans widely use three primary methods of losing weight.
1. Traditional Weight Loss
This is an old-fashioned method of weight loss that involves cutting calories by making healthier food choices while simultaneously burning more calories through exercise.
Depending on your adherence to a healthy diet and exercise plan, it’s possible to lose approximately one to two pounds per week until you achieve your weight loss goals. This method can produce a slow, steady and sustainable weight loss if you’re willing to make major lifestyle changes.
2. Medically-Supervised Weight Loss
This style of weight loss often involves very strict dietary restrictions along with prescribed medications to assist in the weight loss process. Work with your primary physician or a trusted medical professional to discuss options available to you before resorting to facilities promising extreme weight loss results.
3. Surgical Weight Loss
A variety of weight loss surgeries are available today to help you lose weight by reducing the size of your stomach. Bariatric surgery can restrict the amount of food the stomach can hold or bypass the small intestine, effectively reducing the number of calories the body absorbs. The weight loss surgeries most commonly used today include:
- Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery: This procedure reduces the size of the stomach by surgically creating a tiny pouch for food. Then the small intestine is cut to connect to the new food pouch, bypassing part of the small intestine and reducing the number of calories your body absorbs.
- Laparoscopic adjustable gastric banding: This surgery creates a smaller pouch for your stomach with the use of a band containing an inflatable balloon that makes your stomach feel smaller and fuller. This procedure does not bypass any of the small intestines or reduce calorie or nutrient absorption.
- Sleeve gastrectomy: This surgery removes part of the stomach, creating a tube-like structure with what remains. It reduces the amount of food the stomach can hold and the amount of ghrelin, an appetite-regulating hormone, reducing your desire to eat.
- Duodenal switch with a biliopancreatic diversion: This procedure begins like the sleeve gastrectomy then closes off the middle section of the intestine, bypassing the area completely before connecting the end of the small intestine directly to the duodenum, which is the part of the intestine immediately after the stomach. This surgery limits the absorption of calories and nutrients in addition to making the stomach smaller.
Surgery is the riskiest of the primary weight loss methods you can use today but helps to fuel your weight loss efforts and drive by jump-starting your weight loss efforts. It helps to sustain motivation to see pounds melt off quickly though it is up to you to sustain the weight loss and maintain the results.
How to Begin Medical Marijuana Treatment for Weight Loss
So, does marijuana make you lose weight? When used properly and combined with a healthy diet and exercise, it could. Before you begin your medical marijuana and weight loss treatment, however, you’ll want to be sure you know your state laws surrounding it.
Medical marijuana could help you lose weight. Learn more about treatment options, strains and what symptoms cannabis can help you with.
The Top Cannabis Strains That Encourage Weight Loss
I know what you’re thinking… how can a plant that is notorious for giving people munchies also promote weight-loss? Well its’ a little more complicated than a simple yes… but yes, it’s possible. You can use cannabis to lose weight through the appetite suppressant cannabinoid or through using the infamous munchies to your advantage. Research shows that cannabis consumers are a slimmer population compared to those who do not consume cannabis. Before we get into how cannabis can be used for weight loss and which strains are best, let’s have a look at the cannabinoids involved.
THCV is an Appetite Suppressant
We all know that Cannabidiol (CBD) is widely used and researched for its’ medicinal properties. It makes sense to assume that this cannabinoid would also be involved in the process of weight-loss. However, it does not suppress or stimulate appetite and metabolism at all. Thankfully, cannabis plants have many cannabinoids, just like the human body. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) are two cannabinoids that play significant roles in our appetite and metabolism while under the influence of cannabis. THC stimulates your appetite and is responsible for the munchies, while THCV acts as an appetite suppressant. Cannabis consumers are less likely to be overweight or obese due to researchers’ hypothesis that THC causes changes in gut microbiome which helps to regulate weight loss and digestion.
If you are looking to eat-less and suppress your appetite, then THCV is cannabinoid you’re looking for. THCV has gained fame for its rarity and health benefits. It also acts as a block against the receptors that respond to THC. Along with suppressing your appetite, THCV increases the energy you spend and reduces glucose intolerance.
The American Journal of Botany tested over 157 plants around the world for their THCV content. They found that the highest THCV content found in cannabis plants that originate from South African and parts of Afghanistan. The highest testing flower for THCV at the 2014 High Time Times Seattle U.S Cannabis Cup was Durban Poison. It is important to remember that not all strains of cannabis contain THCV so choosing the right one is important, especially if you only start consuming cannabis for weight-loss and appetite suppressing.
Cannabis Strains That Promote Appetite Suppression:
- Tangie (Skunk lineage)
- Girl Scout Cookies (Durban Poison lineage)
- Durban Poison
- Jack the Ripper
- Dutch Treat
- Skunk #1
- Doug’s Varin (bred for THCV content)
- Willie Nelson (bred for THCV content)
It is believed that consumers who use strains that share a lineage with the above strains will also benefit from THCV. If you have chosen to consume THCV strains simply for weight-loss, try micro-dosing.
If you are a frequent cannabis consumer and are looking to lose weight, then keep smoking on and make a few changes to your choice of snacks and meals. Conventional advice suggests that one should eat less to lose weight while many health nuts and gym junkies believe that the key to losing fat is to eat more… but to eat more of the right types of food. If you do not exercise and eat well for your body, consuming cannabis that does not contain THCV will not lead to weight-loss, it will simply prevent weight-gain. Manipulating the munchies for your benefit may be more work, but it is worth it seeing as though you can continue to eat a lot while losing weight. When you eat more nutritious and quality foods, you’re more physically and emotionally satisfied than when you spend your energy on restricting yourself.
Tips For Munchies And Weight Loss:
- Trade sugary treats such as chocolate for healthier alternatives such as fruit (my personal favorite is strawberries- sometimes covered in 80% cocoa dark chocolate)
- Instead of bread, opt for rice cakes and whole-grain cracker bread.
- Exchange chips/crisps for popcorn, nuts or seeds.
- Drink lots of water.
- Trade sodas/cold drinks for home-made ice-teas.
- Don’t buy junk food. If your household has no junk for you to eat, you won’t have any junk to eat when you have the munchies.
- Do not rush your snacking. Take your time and really enjoy what you’re tasting. This will help avoid over-eating.
- Educate yourself on healthier and yummy recipes. Eating healthy does not have to be boring or bland. (check out the recipe for a healthier alternative to conventional brownies below)
- Most importantly: PREPARE. Make snacks and food before you consume cannabis. This gives you control over what you put in your body.
- Remember, your body is a machine and should be given the correct fuel to run at its’ best.
Like all weight-loss strategies, frequent exercise is key to weight-loss although your eating habits will determine whether you succeed or fail in your quest. To benefit from THCVs appetite suppressant or THCs munchies, you can consume them as usual… through a jay, bong, oil or whatever your personal preference is. Besides weight-loss, cannabis cannabinoids have many benefits to your health which comes as a package when consuming it. Take charge of your health and weight, stay lifted and happy strain hunting.
Most don't equate cannabis with weight loss. But did you know that there are cannabis strains that promote weight loss? Learn all about it here.