You’ve probably known someone in your life who fits the Shaggy Rogers profile: they regularly use cannabis, they get the notorious munchies from it, yet they never seem to put on significant amounts of weight in spite of all their high-calorie snacking. Recent scientific study has made this phenomenon even more interesting concerning cannabis and a slim waistline.
What Research Says
A handful of studies that have been conducted since 2011 have found regular cannabis users to have lower rates of obesity, smaller waistlines and even lower insulin levels than their counterparts who do not partake. Of course these studies represent too small of an overall sample size to definitively say that cannabis keeps you slim. Nevertheless, between these studies and much of the anecdotal evidence, it appears to be a link that’s worthy of further investigation.
One early explanation for how cannabis might influence obesity levels is tied into another emerging area of scientific research — the hormones leptin and ghrelin, which are responsible for feelings of hunger and satiation. Leptin is released when the body is satiated to prevent overconsumption of food, while ghrelin is released when the body is in need of calories. Strong scientific evidence indicates that obesity due to overeating may correlate to a resistance to leptin within the body.
Research conducted on mice over the past decade indicates that when cannabinoids reach receptors in the brain, there is a corresponding release of leptin. Initially, this seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom. After all, wouldn’t the release of ghrelin spur the needless consumption of junk food associated with a pot high? There are several possible explanations here. One is that the cannabinoids are somehow blocking leptin uptake in the brain, and another is that somehow they are confusing the receptors or brain into believing that leptin is actually ghrelin.
It’s a little confusing
Perhaps a better explanation lies in the diets of those who regularly get high on cannabis. However, they have largely not been studied in controlled scientific environments. A few studies of this nature were done in the 1980s and published in the journals Appetite and Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior. One study found no overall daily increase in caloric intake, and another found an increase only if two or more marijuana cigarettes were smoked in a session. A third study did see subjects increase their daily caloric intake and put on weight, but this was due to increased snacking between meals rather than an increase in meal sizes.
The central factor that might be confusing the issue here is that the few scientific studies that are available were short term and done with volunteers who were not necessarily regular or active users prior to participating. In other words, the development of tolerance over extended periods of time was not considered. So “the munchies” may be common to new users or those who take long breaks between sessions, but not so much for those who consistently take cannabis on a daily or almost-daily basis.
The only thing that can be said for certain is that more study is required about cannabis and a slim waistline to clear up these mysteries. Unfortunately, any study involving cannabis is difficult to initiate due to the complications caused by its federal classification as a Schedule I controlled substance. Consequently, it may be awhile before we get any conclusive answers, but individual states legalizing cannabis use over the last few years should help speed things up.