The latest available research suggests that, despite ‘the munchies’ phenomenon, marijuana users are in fact generally less likely to be obese and weigh less than non-users are.
A recent survey revealed that an estimated 22 million people aged 12+ years old use marijuana regularly in the United States, with an ever-increasing number of adults and seniors partaking in the habit. Most adults acknowledged that they use it recreationally, while only 10% stated that they use it for its medicinal qualities. It was noted that the use of medical marijuana in New Jersey was particularly high.
A physiological effect of using cannabis is an increased appetite, or what is known colloquially by users as the munchies. It would therefore seem almost certain that this would lead to excess weight gain. However, epidemiological investigations show that users of cannabis are in fact less likely to be obese than those who do not use the plant
This matter was investigated further by researchers at Michigan State University to find out definitively if regular cannabis consumption is likely to make one gain weight.
Studying cannabis users
The researchers took data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC). The study was made up of 33,000 participants over the age of 18 from across the United States. These participants were questioned about their marijuana use, along with their body mass index (BMI) over a set period of time.
The team of researchers applied models to establish a link between cannabis use and BMI. What they found was that of the study participants 2% were avid users, 3% had just begun using, 18% had quit, and 77% had never used marijuana.
Cannabis users have a lower BMI
The overall findings were that users of cannabis were far less likely to be affected by obesity or be overweight during the period. Over the 3-year survey period, all participants actually showed a weight increase, but those using cannabis showed less of an increase.
The researchers agreed that the findings appeared to be counterintuitive in light of the fact that using the substance increases appetite. The study adds to an ever-increasing amount of evidence that suggest the opposite is true.
Although the difference in the BMI levels between users and non-users was not very big, the significance was the fact that the trend was present across the entire sample of participants. On average, a difference of two pounds was found, which although does not seem like a lot, is impressive given the fact that this gap was present across over 30,000 participants with a range of different behavioral traits.
Can cannabis be used as a treatment for obesity?
One must remember however that the study was observational and thus cannot infer causality. Nevertheless, one of the opinions that were put forward by the lead researcher to explain the association between cannabis use and lower BMI was that of it (cannabis use) being more behavioral. For instance, users could become more conscious of their intake of food due to them worrying about ‘the munchies’ after using marijuana.
Another school of thought is that it could be the actual marijuana use itself, which in the process of modifying certain receptors or cells within the body affects weight gain, or the lack thereof. What is clear from this study is that more research is required into this subject. Until this has been done and a greater understanding of the underlying mechanism has been established, people should not consider cannabis use as a way to maintain, or even lose, weight healthily.