The Cannabis Connection to Healthy Weight
For decades, the stereotypical pot smoker was portrayed as someone who is lazy, slow, and usually has a bag of chips in their hands. There’s no denying that the dreaded munchies are an inevitable side effect of smoking grass, and because of this, cannabis has long been used as a therapy for anorexics, HIV/AIDS patients, and cancer patients who need to improve their appetite. However, there is a less studied side to cannabis consumption that has started to come to the surface with the legalization of this healing herb… weight and blood sugar management. Despite your vague memories from college of waking up in a groggy fog, face-down in an empty pizza box, cannabis consumption may actually help you maintain a normal weight, regardless of whether you’re underweight, overweight, or somewhere in the middle.
In a five-year study conducted from 2005 to 2010 on nearly 5000 individuals published in the American Journal of Medicine found that current marijuana consumers (consuming between 3 and 5 times per week) had nearly 16% lower resting glucose levels, as well as, a smaller waist circumference than those who have either quit smoking marijuana or those who never started. Since a higher resting glucose is attributed to the development of Diabetes Type 2 and obesity, it is easy to conclude cannabis can contribute to effectively treating these two diseases as well.
One pharmacology professor, Daniele Piomelli, from the University of California believes tolerance may be part of the explanation. In an attempt to explain this phenomenon, during a 2013 interview with Time Magazine, Piomelli suggested as a user continues to consume cannabis over time and their tolerance to the THC molecule increases, the “munchies effect” decreases because the cannabinoid receptors in the brain are less likely to respond to our endocannabinoids. She stated,
“The most likely explanation is that prolonged cannabis use causes the [receptors] to lose sensitivity and become inactive. This has been shown to happen in people who smoke marijuana. This weakening of [these receptors] translates into a lower risk for obesity and diabetes because the inactive receptor would be unable to respond to our own cannabis-like molecules, which we know are important in keeping us chubby.”
Studies have shown we can look to THC for pain relieving, sedative effects, we can look to CBD for anti-spastic, anti-inflammatory properties, and now studies are starting show the therapeutic benefits of another cannabinoid found in the cannabis plant. Tetrahydrocannabivarin, or THCv, is only one of over 100 cannabinoids found in marijuana showing promise for medical advancements in the treatment of obesity and diabetes type 2. The American Journal of Botany tested 157 strains from all over the world and reported that THCv is found in some levels in nearly every strain of cannabis they tested suggesting that this is a prevalent and abundant compound worth researching in depth.
In a 2007 conference, research was presented showing lab mice being supplemented with the THCv cannabinoid alone spent less time around their food than their non-medicated counterparts did. In another small clinical trial of 62 people, patients were supplemented with a specific formula of CBD and THCv. The results showed a significant improvement in multiple areas including fasting insulin levels, reduced glucose levels, better insulin response, lower blood pressure, and fewer inflammation markers.
Some suggest a simpler explanation to the connection between weight loss and cannabis consumption. Psychology suggests that food, for some, is a drug, effectively triggering the reward center of our brains, thus some people may feel a “high” or a certain level of satisfaction from consuming and over-consuming certain foods, especially sugary, starchy, carb-laden foods. When cannabis is introduced, it provides the high the user’s brain is craving, thus negating the need to overeat.
Yet, with the same types of therapies being effective for stimulating appetite or decreasing appetite, could cannabis actually be used as a metabolic stabilizer? A study of the endocannabinoid system in 2007 shows that antagonizing the CB1 receptor while adjusting the diet of lab rats, significantly increased weight loss during the first 40 weeks of the trial, as well as, prevented weight gain and supported weight stabilization over the next two years, suggesting long-term weight management capabilities.
Two thirds of our population is considered overweight with 33% falling into the obese category. Being overweight or obese is known to cause disease. According to the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, obesity can lead to these conditions if not treated:
- Metabolic Syndrome
- Type 2 Diabetes
- High Cholesterol
- Heart Disease
- Respiratory Issues
- Back Pain Fatty
- Liver Disease
- Urinary Incontinence
- Gallbladder Disease
- Emotional Issues
Complications from obesity is estimated to create over $190 billion dollars in medical expenditures each year which is more than 20% of the annual medical spending in the United States. This kind of spending affects us all. Working towards healthier citizens, the National League of Cities provided the following statistics on their website:
The direct and additional hidden costs of obesity are stifling businesses and organizations that stimulate jobs and growth in U.S. cities. In the 10 cities with the highest obesity rates, the direct costs connected with obesity and obesity-related diseases are roughly $50 million per 100,000 residents. If these 10 cities cut their obesity rates down to the national average, the combined savings to their communities would be $500 million in health care costs each year.
With such extreme health implications and vast amounts of money being spent to fight obesity furiously climbing, ethically we cannot be ignoring the potential impact of further research into cannabis therapies. In fact, with all of the medical implications of cannabis, and the impact on medical spending it could have, could legalization of cannabis lead us into a new era of better health and financial security for all of us? While the government stumbles over red tape and biased opinions, folks in Colorado can boast over having the lowest percentage of obesity in the nation. Coincidence? Doubtful.