Myth Busting: Does Cannabis Really Increase Your Metabolism?
As cannabis has slowly started being legalized in the United States for both medical and recreational purposes, it seems that more and more people are getting excited about this “wonder drug.” People use medical marijuana to help treat chronic pain, anxiety disorders and a slew of other ailments, so it’s clear that, when used correctly, cannabis can have positive health impacts.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at a commonly held belief about cannabis: that marijuana can help you lose weight by boosting your metabolism.
What Causes “The Munchies”
As people who’ve used it might know, marijuana is famous for causing intense hunger. Affectionately referred to as “the munchies,” this hunger is the driving factor behind many a midnight snack run.
The fact that marijuana can make you feel hungry leads some people to believe it increases metabolism. However, it’s unlikely that a spike in how quickly the body burns through energy causes the munchies. Instead, scientists suggest a few other explanations.
How Cannabis Mimics Hunger Signals in the Body
When people feel like snacking after smoking pot, it’s not because they’re necessarily in need of more food. Instead, the consumption of cannabis may trick the body into thinking it’s hungrier than it is.
Once inside the body, the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in cannabis releases a chemical called anandamide, which is picked up by CB1 receptors located primarily in the spinal cord, brain and nerves. These cell receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system, which was named for its response to cannabis. These receptors take notice of cannabinoids the body naturally produces — like anandamide — and allow the body to regulate things like pain, appetite and the immune system.
Usually, CB1 receptors can accurately tell the body when it needs food. However, when anandamide from cannabis enters the body, it binds to CB1 receptors and triggers a hunger response, even when you’re not really in need of food.
So, rather than speed up metabolism, cannabis manufactures the feeling of hunger, causing that sudden, weird craving.
Can Cannabis Promote Weight Loss?
Marijuana can have several benefits when it comes to maintaining or achieving a healthy weight. Even though marijuana smokers tend to eat more, repeated use might cause them to weigh less.
Some researchers suggest that repeated use of cannabis over time may lead the body to become more resistant to hunger signals. By weakening CB1 receptors, repeated marijuana use may cause the body to be less sensitive not only to the hunger-inducing effects of the drug, but also the anandamide the body releases naturally, leading people to feel the need to eat less often.
The lower obesity rates of those who smoke cannabis could also be related to the strain of marijuana used, due to differences in THC and cannabidiol (CBD) levels. THC is the main psychoactive component in cannabis, and in animal studies, has been found to increase hunger. Another ingredient, CBD, had the opposite effect — actually reducing appetite. It’s possible that that using strains with a higher CBD content, as opposed to THC, could be causing reduced weight in some cases.
Though scientists are curious about the relationship between marijuana use and reduced blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and other health conditions, it’s still too soon to make any strong declarations about whether or not smoking marijuana will help you lose weight. But, you can be more confident it’s not going to alter your metabolism completely.
Medical marijuana can help people with a variety of health conditions, and weight could very well be one of those in the near future. However, until more research is done, it’s not recommended that you switch out your exercise routine for smoke sessions.
By all means, try out marijuana if it’s legal in your state. Maybe you’ll notice a difference. Just make sure to consult your doctor first and keep up with your usual healthy habits — namely, a good diet and exercise. And when the munchies strike, make sure you have some healthy snacks lying around.