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Smoking Weed for Weight Loss: Does it Work?

What to know before toking up.

You’ve probably heard that ongoing punchline about how stoners always have the munchies. But is it actually true? Maybe.

Research shows that smoking marijuana does affect the mechanisms that trigger hunger in our brain: receptors in our brain trigger the release of hormones that make us feel famished, causing us to gobble up everything in sight.

But even though there’s evidence to support the Cheetos-munching stoner stereotype, that doesn’t mean it’s entirely true. Other studies have shown that smoking pot doesn’t lead to weight gain.

In fact, people who regularly smoke get high off weed are less likely to be overweight or obese compared to those who don’t, according to a paper published in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The study included more than 30,000 participants. All put on weight during the three year study, but those who smoked weed gained the fewest pounds. This was determined by comparing Body Mass Index for participants in the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions study.

Researchers tied to that study theorize that cannabis may create cellular changes that impact weight gain.

And this isn’t the only study that indicates stoners may weigh less than people who don’t smoke. A 2011 study from the American Journal of Epidemiology, concluded that even if weed consumption increases appetite, “people using cannabis are less likely to be obese than people who do not use cannabis.” Other studies indicate that many cannabis users have trimmer waistlines than non-users, as well as lower cholesterol levels. What’s more, these results have proven to be true regardless of sample size or factors like age and gender.

So why else might this be the case? Researchers speculate it’s because of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound in marijuana that causes people to be “high.” To test the link between THC and weight loss, researchers at the University of Calgary examined obese mice and mice at a regular weight, both of which were given THC daily. The researchers found that while THC did not have any effect on the size of the mice who were already at a regular weight, it did cause the obese mice to lose weight. The researchers hypothesized that this was because THC caused changes in the gut microbiome that helped regulate weight loss and digestion.

Other studies in Poland, Italy, Hungary, Canada and the UK have replicated these findings, leading some researchers to conclude that there is “a correlation between cannabis use and reduction in the BMI,” said Dr. Sunil Aggarwal, a Washington-based physician and cannabis researcher. “This association holds even after controlling for other variables,” such as age, gender, or why a person is smoking marijuana to begin with (so for instance, a cancer patient who uses marijuana as a method of pain relief).

That said, there’s also some evidence indicating that marijuana’s effects on weight fluctuation are more complicated than Aggarwal would suggest. Didier Jutras-Aswad, a professor of neuroscience at University of Montreal, has studied how cannabis affects the functions of neurobiological circuits controlling appetite.

“It is known … that cannabis causes temporary increase in appetite,” which can indeed lead to weight gain, he said. Yet he conceded that “as to whether it actually causes weight gain in the long term, the available data is limited.”

It’s important to note that cannabis isn’t a prescription for weight loss: If you don’t exercise and have unhealthy eating habits, then smoking weed probably won’t help you have a lower BMI. Plus, you also want to consider that smoking weed is tied to breathing problems, psychosis, and mania-like symptoms in people with bipolar disorder. In fact, research suggests that smoking marijuana can lead to chronic bronchitis even injure the cell linings on your lungs, according to the American Lung Association.

Bottom line: there’s no evidence suggesting weed will help with your physique goals. The best way to lose weight is by following a diet plan that works for you.

​​Contrary to popular belief, smoking pot doesn't lead to weight gain — according to a few studies. In fact, weed might even help you maintain your weight.

Get High, Slim Down: How Weed Can Help You Lose Weight, According to Science

MOVE OVER, Whole30. The newest weight-loss plan is the thing you hid from your parents in high school. Some scientists are linking tetrahydrocannabinol—or THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana—with weight loss.

–> “People assume marijuana users are heavier because it stimulates appetite,” says Tom Clark, chair of the biological sciences department at Indiana University South Bend. Clark and his team analyzed 17 studies that included almost 156,000 participants, and found that pot users were lighter than the drug-free. And their body mass index (BMI) is 7 percent lower on average—for a 6-foot guy, that’s a 15-pound spread. Most interesting, pot users are 30 to 35 percent less likely to be obese.

Get High, Train Harder

THC seems to bump metabolism over time, so even if there’s an initial hit of the munchies, the metabolism boost compensates—and then some. “And if modern strains have lost the munchie effects, but increased metabolic rates remain, I would think the effects of reducing obesity would be even greater,” Clark says.

And you don’t have to be a frequent smoker to lose pounds. A one-time user bumps his metabolism for up to four weeks, so getting high a couple of times a month can get you noticeably trimmer, studies revealed.

The exact dose needed is unclear, but THC is a must, as opposed to its more widely legal, nonpsychoactive counterpart cannabidiol (CBD). The thinking goes that our modern American diet is too high in omega-6 fatty acids, which come from sources like vegetable oil and butter. In excess, omega-6 can cause inflammation in the body. It also overstimulates a receptor called CB1R, which causes increased hunger and makes food taste better, decreases metabolic rates, and encourages fat storage. THC is able to “talk” to the CB1R receptor and help restore homeostasis, Clark says. In other words, it may help reduce hunger and weight gain.

The Best Ways to Work Weed Into Your Workout

THC may also improve the gut biome, which also affects weight. Obesity is linked to higher levels of a group of bacteria called Firmicutes, and lower of another, Bacteroidetes. In an animal study from the University of Calgary in Canada, obese mice on a high-calorie diet were given THC. Their gut bacteria levels normalized, and they stopped gaining weight.

Still, pot can’t undo bad eating. “If you want to lose weight, you can’t keep a diet high in fat, sugar, and artificial sweeteners,” says Myron Szewczuk, a biomedical researcher at Queen’s University in Ontario, Canada.

Not everyone’s buying it. “The data that cannabis causes weight loss is not solid,” says Diana Martinez, a psychiatry professor at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. “There are animal studies, but the human research is based on self-reporting, so there’s no way to know how much they’re taking. To prove the theory requires a study that gives some people THC and others a placebo.”

Martinez is not necessarily anti-pot. She says it has treatment potential for debilitating conditions—like multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, and Crohn’s disease—that need more treatment options. But in the U.S., regulations governing THC in research need to loosen before large-scale human studies can happen.

Unless you live in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, this diet advice will be hard to follow. And since definitive science is lacking anyway, you’re not a buzzkill if you choose to stick with a good diet and exercise.

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What’s more fun than counting calories and skiping dessert? Smoking weed. Here’s how it can help you shed those pounds and get fit, according to research.