Does THC make you gain weight, or lose weight?
If you're like most people, you're probably thinking that THC must make you gain weight. After all, the "munchies" are a thing, right?
The real answer may surprise you.
Let's explore the links between THC, weight gain, and weight loss.
THC is short for tetrahydrocannabinol, which is the main psychoactive component of cannabis. THC is what makes you feel relaxed, euphoric, and high.
THC works by interacting with cannabinoid receptors in your brain — then altering your mood and perception. THC-use is also linked to some health effects, like pain reduction, relaxation, nausea alleviation, and more.
Some people think that THC is linked with weight gain. Is there any weight to these claims?
The image of the couch-locked "stoner" munching on junk food is a stereotype for a reason. THC can stimulate your appetite in the short term, leading you to eat more.
But does this appetite stimulation lead to weight gain?
Not necessarily, say researchers. THC may increase hunger but, it might not lead to much weight gain.(1) Though the answer isn’t quite so simple.
The truth is — a range of variables might play into how THC affects your weight.
For example, one study showed that among cigarette-smoking males, smoking cannabis was associated with lower weight. But males who were non-cigarette smokers and only cannabis smokers — gained weight during the longitudinal study.(2) However, the researchers found no strong associations among the female participants.
At the same time, the synthetic THC medication dronabinol is prescribed to cancer and HIV/AIDS patients to stimulate appetite and treat the weight loss that comes with the disease. Studies with anorexia patients have also shown weight gain when given the dronabinol treatment.(3)
How does THC help some gain weight, but not others?
This discrepancy may have to do with starting BMI. Researchers theorize that low weight individuals may be more susceptible to the weight-gain effects of THC.(1)
Additionally, taking dronabinol — the synthetic THC medication — is not the same as smoking cannabis. More research needs to be done to see if there’s a direct link between THC and weight gain from smoking, eating, or otherwise consuming cannabis.
In fact, the current research on cannabis smokers shows the opposite.
The research between THC and weight is perplexing, to say the least. Although it may stimulate those hunger pangs, a large body of research points to THC as a potential weight-loss aid.
It's long been known that smoking marijuana makes you hungry. But research consistently shows that cannabis users tend to have a lower body mass index (BMI).
One study looked at cannabis use across four different BMI categories:(4)
So the results showed that 29% of those with a BMI lower than 30 were cannabis users, while only 14% of those with a BMI of 50 or above were cannabis users.
Another study used two surveys to track the obesity rates in the general population. Among the general population of non-cannabis users, Survey 1 found an obesity prevalence of 22% and Survey 2 found a 25% prevalence.
When they looked at those who had used cannabis at least three days a week, the obesity prevalence was much lower — 14% for Survey 1 and 17% for Survey 2.(5)
These results suggest a correlation between cannabis use and lower rates of obesity. Why is this?
For some reason, despite the fact that cannabis might stimulate appetite, people who use it regularly tend to have lower BMIs than those who don't.
THC might be slimming down people's waistlines by interacting with the endocannabinoid system, which is involved in energy balance and metabolism.
One study theorizes that cannabis leads to lower BMIs through:(6)
There also seems to be a link between using cannabis and exercising. As many as 70% of THC-enthusiasts say that they’ve used cannabis before working out.(7)
Reasons for hitting the THC prior to hitting the gym include:
THC often enhances euphoric feelings. Feeling good while exercising might be forming a positive association: Exercise + THC = the good feels.
Your brain wants the good feels again, motivating you to keep up the cardio. Yah, we’re a bit like Pavlov’s dogs in this regard….
Does THC help you lose weight or gain weight? There seems to be evidence for both. Signs point to a complex interaction of factors. We know that THC can stimulate appetite, but it also seems to help people maintain lower BMIs.
At the same time, dronabinol, the THC medication approved for helping treat HIV/AIDS and cancer patients gain weight, does seem to help some people pack on the pounds.
In the end, it may be that THC affects everyone uniquely. If you're looking to use THC for either weight loss or weight gain, your best bet is to experiment and see what works for you.
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