While the use of cannabis is usually associated with the “munchies,” consider this—of the people you know who enjoy cannabis, how many of them are overweight? If you are like most people, your answer will be, “not many” or “none at all.” This may be an unscientific observation, but there are studies that indicate that people who smoke cannabis recreationally—in moderation—and those who use it to treat specific medical conditions tend to maintain a healthy weight.
To understand how Cannabis affects appetite, it is also necessary to understand the body’s endocannabinoid system. Our bodies are “receptive” to the numerous chemical components of cannabis, primarily delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) because although plant-based, they are “bio-identical” to the cannabinoids produced by our own bodies. In fact, all mammals have an endocannabinoid system. THC and CBD are recognized and used by many of the cells in our body including brain cells, (the limbic forebrain and the hypothalamus), the stomach, and the intestines. Cannabinoid receptor, CB1, is located in the stomach and intestines, while Cannabinoid receptor, CB2, is found in the brain.
Scientists have been studying the effects of cannabis on the appetite for approximately 15 years. In patients who have cancer, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and Alzheimer’s, cannabis regulates and stimulates appetite.Something that can be hard with these conditions. Cannabis it could be said is helping to these patients to achieve a healthier body weight by making them want to eat more, which could in turn have its own potential benefits.
In healthy people, certain strains of cannabis seem to suppress appetite which is a contradictory result from what we mentioned above but it is also caused by THC instead of CBD. THC, the cannabinoid that causes the “high” is itself an appetite suppressant. Even though people who consume cannabis succumb to the munchies, they are still less likely to gain weight than those who do not use cannabis. It is thought that increases within the metabolism is responsible for this.
It seems counterintuitive that cannabis can promote both weight-loss and weight gain . This twofold quality is due to the human body’s ability to recognize the endocannabinoid properties of cannabis and to send them to the appropriate cannabinoid receptors, increasing appetite for those suffering from the side-effects of chemotherapy, for example, and reducing appetite for those who struggle with cravings and overeating. Once again showing how effective our own endocannabinoid system can be when additional cannabinoids or opioids are introduced.
In two studies of adults who used cannabis at least three days a week as opposed to adults who did not use cannabis at all, users of cannabis were less likely to suffer from morbid obesity. “These differences were not accounted for by tobacco smoking status. Additionally, after adjustment for sex and age, the use of cannabis was associated with body mass index differences in both samples. The authors conclude that the prevalence of obesity is lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.”
If you’re scratching your head, you’re not alone. The results were puzzling even for scientists, but they found the answer in the ability of cannabis to counteract insulin resistance. People who are insulin resistant have cells that do not respond normally to the insulin hormone. The body requires insulin to remove excess sugar, blood glucose, out of the bloodstream and cells. The pancreas produces insulin and other hormones that regulate both sugar and salt. When the body becomes insulin resistant, the pancreas works overtime to produce even more insulin but because the cells no longer react in a normal way, diabetes (type 2), can be the devastating result.
A May 2013 study by the American Journal of Medicine found that cannabis lowers insulin levels. Participants who used cannabis regularly had fasting insulin levels 16% lower than non-users. Cannabis users also had smaller waist sizes. Scientists concluded that there was an association between smaller waist circumference and the use of cannabis.
In a Canadian animal study, obese mice were fed a high-fat diet and injected with cannabis. Another group of obese mice was fed a high-fat diet but did not get cannabis injections. Mice who were injected with cannabis lost weight even while they continued to eat a high-fat diet.
How about the effect of cannabis on mice that had normal weight? Nothing changed. “This is great news because it means that cannabis can’t be abused by those looking to lose unhealthy amounts of weight.”
The power of cannabis to control insulin resistance cannot be underestimated. According to the American Diabetes Association, over 30 million Americans are affected by this disease. The cost of diabetes both in terms of the damage it does to the body and the treatments used to control it is staggering. Diabetes is the seventh most prevalent cause of death in this country. The tragedy is that it is a preventable disease in many cases. If the current trend in the study of cannabis’ efficacy in preventing diabetes continues, cannabis may become a treatment option that is safer than most pharmaceutical drugs used today.
Ever had a “gut instinct?” If you look down a precipice, do you get “butterflies” in your stomach? Research indicates that there is constant communication between our brains and our gastrointestinal system. Depression, anxiety, and a host of other psychological issues may have more to do with your belly than it does with your head. In the 1990s, scientists came to understand that there is “a complex and comprehensive network of neurotransmitters and hormones shared by both the brain and the digestive tract.”
In our bodies, the two thick stems and the many branches of the vagus nerve connect the brain to the lower intestines. On its meander down to the digestive system, the vagus nerve also touches the heart and other major organs. The cannabinoid receptors, CB1 in the brain, and CB2 in the digestive tract may be part of the reason why cannabis can be so effective in the balancing act of enhancing appetite in those who need to gain weight, and decreasing appetite in those who want to lose weight. The properties in cannabis are easily recognizable by these brain and digestive tract receptors and, as a result, they are like keys that unlock the cells in the body so, just the right healing action takes place.
In addition, cannabis can change the intestinal flora in a positive way. The intestinal flora in healthy people include microorganisms that ensure an effective digestive system and strong immunity against disease and mental health issues. In the study of the effect of cannabis on obese mice, the unhealthy bacteria were replaced with good bacteria that kickstarted weight loss despite the high-fat diet.
While cannabis can be helpful in lowering blood sugar and plaque build-up in your arteries, it is not a miracle cure. To lose weight, you must improve your diet and start or continue an exercise program. If you want to experiment with cannabis for weight loss here are some tips:
Strains like Pineapple Purps and Doug’s Varin contain tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV). THCV is an appetite suppressant that has been found to be particularly helpful for those who want to avoid binge eating and reduce cravings. Expect to feel energized and productive, not anxious or wound up. THCV has anti-anxiety properties and is sometimes used to reduce panic attacks. In addition to its appetite suppressant qualities, THCV may be helpful in preventing diabetes because it regulates blood sugar and reduces insulin-resistance. Take Pineapple Purps and Doug’s Varin in the early morning or during the day.
Both Pineapple Purps and Doug’s Varin are high in a terpene, called, “Humulene.” Terpenes are oils that are secreted with cannabinoids like CBD and THC. These oils are what give different strains of cannabis their unique scent. Humulene is also an appetite suppressant. To lose weight, consider strains that are high in THCV and Humulene.
If you want something more calming and still effective for weight loss, try a strain that contains a higher amount of CBD. These strains include Charlotte’s Web and Harlequin.
If you don’t want to smoke cannabis, try a chewable. Chewable cannabis and CBD are effective for weight loss and taste like candy. Another popular choice is juicing with the raw cannabis plant. “The chemicals THC-A and CBD-A, which change into THC and CBD once you burn them, are nutrients that help your body with cravings and hunger. These nutrients, however, are only found in the raw form of the plant.” Try these delicious smoothies.
To kickstart a weight loss regimen, some people choose to use a cannabis detox. “Like juicing, cannabis detoxes are a one-day detox that gets rid of all of the chemical toxins that are trapped in the body. These toxins attribute to bloating, diarrhea, overeating, and weight gain.”
Rid your cupboards of foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt. That means getting rid of most packaged snacks that are usually laden with all these weight loss antagonists. Make sure you have healthy snacks such as apples, almonds, grapes, tuna fish, turkey slices, and hummus to stave off the munchies if they occur.
Exercise works a lot like cannabis in your brain. That runner’s high is your endocannabinoid system helping you to feel good. Go slow at first and build up your endurance, especially if you are a couch potato. Thirty minutes of moderate exercise five days a week is sufficient to start out. Experiment with different cannabis strains to see which one works best for you. According to an article in Men’s Health, two 5mg cannabis chewables 30 minutes before exercise had the following beneficial effects:
Losing weight is challenging no matter what strategy you choose. You have to experiment with different strains and different methods of consuming cannabis when you first start out. Including cannabis as part of achieving your weight loss goals may help you reduce blood sugar and give you stamina, but nothing can replace a healthy diet and positive attitude. Also, be careful about exercising while high. Always consider your safety and that of others.
After a tough workout, try something relaxing like Harlequin that is high in CBD or a soothing indica. Indica strains are recommended for relaxation. They have a sedative effect and are helpful if you have insomnia or need pain relief. CBD or cannabis lotion is quite effective for sore post-workout muscle pain. To calm the mind, after taking cannabis, try Yoga or Pilates, both of which require mindful breathing exercises. “Not only are you centering and strengthening your breath, you are increasing blood flow to other areas of the body, taking attention away from psychoactive effects occurring in the brain.”
Mindfulness, a meditation practice, can be useful in many areas of your life, including if you struggle with weight loss. By catching yourself when you begin to think negatively about your body and what you are eating, you will be able to forgive yourself for occasional slips and bypass temptation more easily.
Even though there is anecdotal evidence regarding the effectiveness of cannabis in promoting weight loss, there is much more scientific research needed to discover how cannabis interacts with the brain and the digestive system. Studies performed in the last few years show promise particularly in the areas of blood sugar control and insulin resistance.