Smoking Weed for Weight Loss: Does it Work?
What to know before toking up.
You’ve probably heard that ongoing punchline about how stoners always have the munchies. But is it actually true? Maybe.
Research shows that smoking marijuana does affect the mechanisms that trigger hunger in our brain: receptors in our brain trigger the release of hormones that make us feel famished, causing us to gobble up everything in sight.
But even though there’s evidence to support the Cheetos-munching stoner stereotype, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely true. Other studies have shown that smoking pot doesn’t lead to weight gain.
In fact, people who regularly smoke get high off weed are less likely to be overweight or obese compared to those who don’t, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The study included more than 30,000 participants. All put on weight during the three year study, but those who smoked weed gained the fewest pounds. This was determined by comparing Body Mass Index for participants in the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions study.
Researchers tied to that study theorize that cannabis may create cellular changes that impact weight gain.
And this isn’t the only study that indicates stoners may weigh less than people who don’t smoke. A 2011 study from the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that even if weed consumption increases appetite, “people using cannabis are less likely to be obese than people who do not use cannabis.” Other studies indicate that many cannabis users have trimmer waistlines than non-users, as well as lower cholesterol levels. What’s more, these results have proven to be true regardless of sample size or factors like age and gender.
So why else might this be the case? Researchers speculate it’s because of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that causes people to be “high.” To test the link between THC and weight loss, researchers at the University of Calgary examined obese mice and mice at a regular weight, both of which were given THC daily. The researchers found that while THC did not have any effect on the size of the mice who were already at a regular weight, it did cause the obese mice to lose weight. The researchers hypothesized that this was because THC caused changes in the gut microbiome that helped regulate weight loss and digestion.
Other studies in Poland, Italy, Hungary, Canada and the UK have replicated these findings, leading some researchers to conclude that there is “a correlation between cannabis use and reduction in the BMI,” said Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Washington-based physician and cannabis researcher. “This association holds even after controlling for other variables,” such as age, gender, or why a person is smoking marijuana to begin with (so for instance, a cancer patient who uses marijuana as a method of pain relief).
That said, there’s also some evidence indicating that marijuana’s effects on weight fluctuation are more complicated than Aggarwal would suggest. Didier Jutras-Aswad, a professor of neuroscience at University of Montreal, has studied how cannabis affects the functions of neurobiological circuits controlling appetite.
“It is known … that cannabis causes temporary increase in appetite,” which can indeed lead to weight gain, he said. Yet he conceded that “as to whether it actually causes weight gain in the long term, the available data is limited.”
It’s important to note that cannabis isn’t a prescription for weight loss: If you don’t exercise and have unhealthy eating habits, then smoking weed probably won’t help you have a lower BMI. Plus, you also want to consider that smoking weed is tied to breathing problems, psychosis, and mania-like symptoms in people with bipolar disorder. In fact, research suggests that smoking marijuana can lead to chronic bronchitis even injure the cell linings on your lungs, according to the American Lung Association.
Bottom line: there’s no evidence suggesting weed will help with your physique goals. The best way to lose weight is by following a diet plan that works for you.
Contrary to popular belief, smoking pot doesn't lead to weight gain — according to a few studies. In fact, weed might even help you maintain your weight.
The Truth About Losing Weight With Weed
I was never much of a weed smoker, but when I moved to L.A., the local post-legalization zeitgeist rubbed off on me, and I began smoking several times a week. Since I’m a pretty healthy eater and don’t really crave sweets or junk food, I was a bit concerned to find that when I smoked, my stomach suddenly became a bottomless pit that only powdered donuts (and sometimes macadamia nut cookies) could fill. Even so, I didn’t gain weight — I actually lost a bit.
It seemed almost too good to be true, but others have noticed the same. Danielle Simone Brand, a 40-year-old writer in Boise, Idaho, lost 10 pounds after she started using cannabis daily. “One possible reason is that I enjoy food so much when using cannabis that I find myself savoring bites and going for quality and not necessarily quantity,” she said.
There’s a tenuous connection between weed and weight loss
Research suggests that experiences like mine and Brand’s might not be unusual. One 2019 study of 33,000 Americans in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that cannabis users weighed two pounds less than non-users on average, and were overall less likely to be overweight or obese.
Still, this study doesn’t necessarily mean weed makes you lose weight or doesn’t make you gain weight, said Jordan Tishler, a former ER doctor and current cannabis specialist on the medical advisory board at cannabisMD. Maybe stoners eat less than they think, or maybe they’re genetically less prone to weight gain, he explained.
There could be other habits smokers have that account for their lower weight. One 33-year-old engineer in Silicon Valley, who wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons, said he lost weight when he started smoking because it decreased his desire to drink alcohol. While Tishler doesn’t know of any data proving this connection, he has also had patients who drank less after they started using cannabis.
“There are hypotheses that there might be something in cannabis that increases metabolic rate, which would decrease the weight gain,” Tishler said. “There have been some suggestions that cannabis could help protect against diabetes and excessive blood lipids [which are connected to excessive weight]. However, these are just observations that may be accounted for by many other explanations and have not been studied enough to draw any reasonable conclusions.”
Could weed actually cause weight gain?
Even if stoners are lighter on average, that doesn’t mean you can smoke as much as you want without gaining weight, said Marina Yuabova, family nurse practitioner and Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, pointing out that in the aforementioned study, in a sub-group of people who smoked weed occasionally but didn’t smoke cigarettes, the heavier the cannabis use, the heavier the people. So, even though smokers were thinner overall, it depended on how much they smoked. “When cannabis is used over a long time, it will influence weight gain due to munchies and cravings for sweets and salty snacks,” she suggested.
Joan Conklin, a 32-year-old writer in New York City, can attest to this. “Using cannabis made me gain weight because I got the munchies and I was lazy,” she said. “I got so much enjoyment out of music and reading and just existing that I didn’t get out of the apartment much.”
Jason, a 36-year-old teacher in the UK, gained around 30 pounds over two years after he started smoking. “For me, it increased unhealthy diet decisions,” he said. Meanwhile some people specifically use weed to gain weight, pointed out June Chin, a doctor on the medical advisory board at cannabisMD. So there’s really no consensus about what kind of effect weed has on weight.
There might be a biological purpose for the munchies
Regardless of weed’s impact on weight, it’s possible that the munchies serve a purpose, said James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. Cannabinoids can suppress your appetite, he explained—to put it scientifically, it causes changes in the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, as well as appetite-regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin, which may make you less hungry and more easily satisfied.
So, the munchies often show up not right as you get stoned but after some time. “When most people are stoned, they’re not eating,” Giordano said. “As they start to come out, they get a rebound in appetite.” Often, people will crave high-fat meals when they have the munchies because they need the calories, he said.
But Tishler disagrees with this characterization, saying that cannabis does not suppress appetite, and the munchies can set in during the acute intoxication phase.
Ok, regardless: How do you prevent weight gain from weed munchies?
If you’ve eaten an edible, you’re less likely to get the munchies for obvious reasons: you’ve already taken in some calories, so your body releases leptin, which suppresses your appetite, said Giordano. If you want to avoid the munchies, then an edible may be the way to go—it not only will fill you up but also will have a more prolonged appetite-suppressant effect because it’s metabolized more slowly.
But beware that regardless of your method of ingestion, it is absolutely possible to gain weight from the munchies, Tishler said. “Calories are calories. If your intake exceeds your metabolic expenditure, you will store that energy as fat,” he said. “Even if cannabis is somehow mildly protective against weight gain—again, this is entirely unproven—it can certainly be overwhelmed by high calorie intake.”
If you’re concerned about gaining weight from the munchies, Tishler recommends avoiding high-calorie cannabis products like brownies, which are about 250 calories on average. And if you get the munchies, try to satisfy them with nutritious, lower-calorie foods. Your discipline may not be at its highest when you’re stoned, so you may want to have foods you’ll feel good about eating available before you get high. “If you have Doritos in the house, likely you’ll eat them,” he said. “If you don’t and have baby carrots, you’ll eat those instead. Plan to have abundant healthy, crunchy snacks on hand, and be sure you do not have the option for making less-good choices while under the influence.”
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The relationship between cannabis, snacking, and weight is complicated.