We often equate smoking weed with bingeing on junk food and gaining weight. While the former finding is in line with what we’ve already predicted (my record is 18 Oreos in one sitting), new research finds marijuana users — both recently initiated and veteran — tend to weigh less than their counterparts who abstain completely or have quit.
Recently published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, researchers polled 33,000 American adults through the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, and found that while all respondents gained weight over a three-year period, those who used marijuana reported less of an increase. Only 15 percent of users were characterized as obese (with a body mass index of over 30), while 20 percent of non-users fell into that category.
If you take in more calories — or energy — than you expend, you will gain weight. One pound is equal to 3,500 calories, meaning it’s pretty darn easy to gain weight if you don’t have an underlying medical issue preventing you from doing so like celiac disease or nutrient malabsorption. If you can explain weight gain using that kind of simple math, why doesn’t weed-induced bingeing equate to weight gain?
Lead author of the study Omayma Alsharawy said in a statement “It could be something that’s more behavioral like someone becoming more conscious of their food intake as they worry about the munchies after cannabis use and gaining weight. Or it could be the cannabis use itself, which can modify how certain cells, or receptors, respond in the body and can ultimately affect weight gain. More research needs to be done.”
Another hypothesis comes from the journal Psychopharmacology, which posited that those who regularly use are better equipped to manage stress, and in turn manage cravings. Multiple bodies of research, including the Harvard School of Public Health, confirm overall eating patterns, as opposed to isolated indulgent meals or “cheat days” largely define bodyweight, which can explain why munching out a couple nights a week while high won’t have as profound an effect on your weight like chronic stress-induced binges might.
The findings aren’t necessarily to encourage using marijuana as a weight loss tactic, or a method to maintain a healthy bodyweight, the researchers explained. Rather, it’s to debunk the myth that using marijuana is necessarily harmful to your physical and mental health. This research also highlights how marijuana can strengthen that elusive mind-body connection, since reducing stress can help you listen to hunger cues and prevent emotional eating. Additionally, as the remainder of the country bides its time to decriminalize marijuana distribution and consumption, it’s crucial for lawmakers to understand the effects marijuana might have on certain populations’ longterm health.
Like most medical studies, the findings don’t apply to everyone. For instance, many users report increased heart rate and dysphoria, according to Current Pharmaceutical Design, with increased incidences of panic attacks and stress once the high wears off.
It’s also important to note that while marijuana can absolutely provide incredible medicinal and therapeutic effects if used in moderation or under the guidance of a healthcare professional, the study did not specify how many — if any — respondents experience a dependence or addiction to the substance, which is associated with low bodyweight.
Overall though, it’s clear that the increasing legal availability and social acceptance of marijuana means many more studies will be conducted to tell us exactly what effects — positive and negative — come with its use.