Cannabis has a long association with eating. For years, even non-smokers knew that getting high could lead to the “munchies,” wherein a person binges on all sorts of foods and unusual flavor combinations. The association is so strong that fictional characters with large appetites, such as Shaggy and Scooby, have been associated with cannabis use in their modern portrayals.
The association isn’t purely cultural either. In the medical community, cannabis can be prescribed to patients with anorexia caused by chemotherapy or other powerful drugs. Because nutrition is a priority for patients who are seriously ill, the potential downsides of cannabis are overlooked to ensure patients receive adequate caloric intake.
Given this strong association with appetite, it may be surprising to learn that daily cannabis use is not associated with weight gain. In fact, the opposite seems to be the case. Daily use of cannabis is associated with lower BMI and a lower risk of obesity and diabetes. This could be huge news for medical cannabis advocates, as obesity-related health conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease are responsible for countless deaths and health expenses throughout the country.
Why do stoners eat more without gaining weight?
The research is too new to say for certain. Most studies examining the relationship between marijuana and weight are purely correlational, which means that researchers can establish that stoners are less likely to be obese, but unable to establish why that is the case. There could be many explanations.
One possibility is that using cannabis reduces stress. Because many people eat when they are stressed, people with high amounts of stress are more likely to eat more frequently than people who feel relaxed more often. Secondly, because the foods that most people seek out to regulate their emotions are often calorically dense and less satiating (such as packaged cookies, chips, ice cream, etc.), it may be the case that people who smoke less consume more calories on average than stoners, in spite of the munchies effect.
Another possibility is that stoners are more active than other groups. Frequent walks, bike rides, skating, rock climbing, and other activities that are popular with stoners may not be as popular with more sober populations. As a result, stoners may be able to eat more calories without gaining weight, as they use that energy to fuel their activities. Similarly, it may be that people who smoke frequently have fewer aches and pains, which allows them to be more active more frequently than others. The natural analgesic effect of marijuana can thereby encourage lower BMIs in people who smoke, by empowering them to hit the herb vape, then hit the treadmill.
Lastly, the answer may be that stoners are generally younger people, as people tend to smoke less as they age, for career and family-related reasons. Young people generally have less fat on their frame and gain weight as they age, making this another case of correlation (though it doesn’t necessarily signify causation).
Stoners drink less.
While many stoners love to get cross-faded, many cannabis users eschew alcohol entirely, or enjoy it in much more moderation than people who drink but do not smoke. Because stoners may be more likely to consume fewer alcoholic beverages, they consume fewer calories and gain less weight as they age than drinkers. Because alcohol is so calorically dense, avoiding even just a few drinks each week can mean stoners avoid hundreds or thousands of calories in their weekly diet. That effect adds up over the years, particularly as individuals age out of adolescence.
Weed may improve your metabolism.
Some research indicates that cannabis may improve your metabolism. Smoking can stimulate cannabinoid receptor 1, which helps control metabolism and appetite. As a result, smoking cannabis can alter the body’s metabolism and reduce the amount of fat stored in the body, which, in turn, lowers an individual’s BMI.
It’s worth noting that differences in metabolism are often tiny, which may have an effect on long-term weight gain and fat storage, but minimal effect on short-term differences in fat. In other words, even if weed speeds up your metabolism, changes in diet and activity level will still have much larger effects on your weight than small differences in metabolism.
Should I smoke more to lose weight?
While some evidence suggests a relationship between cannabis use and a lower BMI, there’s not enough data for any self-respecting health professional to suggest you start using cannabis as a weight-loss drug. However, if you feel that cannabis may help alleviate your stress, increase your activity level, or otherwise help you modify the number of calories you consume and use, it may be worth putting away the box of cookies and breaking out the box of kief.
The only evidence-based way to intentionally lower body fat is by adjusting the energy balance of your body, which is composed of the calories you consume and the calories your body burns as energy. If you are interested in losing body fat, consult with a doctor or dietitian to discuss effective strategies that fit your life.