Stoners often joke about “The Munchies,” the effect of increased hunger that results from THC use. The Munchies seem to drive weed enthusiasts to increased snacking, which often takes the form of diet-wrecking junk foods: chips, fast food, cookies, soda. So, it would stand to reason that those who often partake of the good green herb have a higher BMI and more body fat than those who abstain.
Yet, the opposite is true.
In a massive study comparing weight gain of regular marijuana users and that of non-users, researchers found that the latter group — the abstainers — put on more weight than the stoners after three years. But, if THC drives people to eat, how can those who use THC weigh less?
We Aren’t Sure
Frustratingly, researchers aren’t yet sure exactly why their study produced such surprising results — and it isn’t likely for researchers to provide a single answer any time soon, if ever. Marijuana research is relatively new; though the drug was used throughout the 20th century, scientists were unable to study cannabis with any rigor due to laws prohibiting its cultivation, sale and use. Only now that states are legalizing weed are researchers able to study its short- and long – term effects reliably.
Scheffler et al.  investigated long-term changes in body mass index, among other parameters, in cannabis users compared to non-users. This study included 109 patients who were treated for various levels of schizophrenia from one episode to patients receiving antipsychotics for 12 months. In contrast to the other reported studies, the researchers that during the first year of treatment there was a greater increase in body mass index in cannabis negative cases compared to cannabis positive cases, after adjusting the different parameters. These differences were not adequately explained by differences in sex, age, alcohol or methamphetamine use, dose or duration of treatment. In contrast to the use of acute cannabis that stimulates appetite, it can be hypothesized that chronic cannabis use may have the effect of suppressing appetite and thus avoiding the weight gain of its users and reducing the risk of obesity. However, other factors such as food malpractice and smoking may influence and contribute to these outcomes. The authors emphasize once again the importance of further longitudinal studies to evaluate possible effects varying in dose and composition of cannabis, with genetics and aspects of quotidian life and in determining the mechanisms by which cannabis reduces the weight gain, being unlikely that it will be used for this purpose.Gonçalves, J., Rosado, T., Soares, S., Simão, A. Y., Caramelo, D., Luís, Â., Fernández, N., Barroso, M., Gallardo, E., & Duarte, A. P. (2019). Cannabis and Its Secondary Metabolites: Their Use as Therapeutic Drugs, Toxicological Aspects, and Analytical Determination. Medicines (Basel, Switzerland), 6(1), 31.
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Still, there are some good theories as to why regular marijuana users seem to weigh less than their non-using peers. Here are the best explanations:
Users are more conscious of their food intake. Because the Munchies are a well-known and widely experienced phenomenon, many regular users take steps to ensure that the food they have in their homes is healthy. Even if users do indulge in junk food while high, they might strive to eat healthier when they are clear – headed, to make up for their excesses under the influence.
Users might not spend as much time bored. Studies on eating habits find that those who experience boredom are more likely to binge eat junk food, increasing their caloric intakes. Marijuana all but prevents the experience of being bored; cannabis use keeps the mind busy with feelings of euphoria and enhanced sensation, and some strains are so potent as to keep users locked to their couches, unable to venture into the world for unhealthy snacks.
Users might have higher metabolic rates. There is some evidence to suggest that the reason the Munchies develop in the first place is that marijuana use kicks users’ metabolisms into high gear, which produces strong feelings of hunger. Faster metabolic rates are associated with fat loss, which results in lower body weight and more favorable BMIs. Though marijuana users in the study did gain weight, they did so at a slower pace possibly because their metabolisms were working overtime.
Most likely, the answer is some combination of all three of these ideas. Still, even if weed has helped users better maintain their weight…
Marijuana Isn’t a Good Diet Tool
Though the findings of this study are intriguing, they aren’t instructive in any way. Once again, it is important to note that the users in the study did not lose weight; they did not even maintain the weight they started the study at — they gained weight. It is merely remarkable that they did not gain more weight than they did, considering how detrimental marijuana seems to be in encouraging exercise and healthy eating. Aside from the Munchies, weed inspires a lack of coordination, a lack of motivation and deep, deep relaxation to the point of lethargy — not exactly the mindset one needs to run a mile or lift weights. It’s meant to cause the opposite effect – one of relaxation and calmness.
In states where weed is legal, like Illinois, recreational cannabis is best used for fun, not dieting. Users should leave their weight – related concerns behind as they take advantage of the exciting distraction available from this legal drug. In fact, many athletes opt to use marijuana as a recovery tool, partaking after a grueling workout with the intention of alleviating exercise – related aches and fully resting their bodies and minds. There are more than a few cannabis brands that develop products specifically for this application.
There are plenty of things one can do to lose weight, but weed isn’t truly one of them. It certainly does not help in staying physically active and motivated to do intense workouts. Rather than worrying too much about gaining fat, most people should prioritize living healthfully — which sometimes includes using marijuana.