The Truth About Losing Weight With Weed
I was never much of a weed smoker, but when I moved to L.A., the local post-legalization zeitgeist rubbed off on me, and I began smoking several times a week. Since I’m a pretty healthy eater and don’t really crave sweets or junk food, I was a bit concerned to find that when I smoked, my stomach suddenly became a bottomless pit that only powdered donuts (and sometimes macadamia nut cookies) could fill. Even so, I didn’t gain weight — I actually lost a bit.
It seemed almost too good to be true, but others have noticed the same. Danielle Simone Brand, a 40-year-old writer in Boise, Idaho, lost 10 pounds after she started using cannabis daily. “One possible reason is that I enjoy food so much when using cannabis that I find myself savoring bites and going for quality and not necessarily quantity,” she said.
There’s a tenuous connection between weed and weight loss
Research suggests that experiences like mine and Brand’s might not be unusual. One 2019 study of 33,000 Americans in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that cannabis users weighed two pounds less than non-users on average, and were overall less likely to be overweight or obese.
Still, this study doesn’t necessarily mean weed makes you lose weight or doesn’t make you gain weight, said Jordan Tishler, a former ER doctor and current cannabis specialist on the medical advisory board at cannabisMD. Maybe stoners eat less than they think, or maybe they’re genetically less prone to weight gain, he explained.
There could be other habits smokers have that account for their lower weight. One 33-year-old engineer in Silicon Valley, who wishes to remain anonymous for professional reasons, said he lost weight when he started smoking because it decreased his desire to drink alcohol. While Tishler doesn’t know of any data proving this connection, he has also had patients who drank less after they started using cannabis.
“There are hypotheses that there might be something in cannabis that increases metabolic rate, which would decrease the weight gain,” Tishler said. “There have been some suggestions that cannabis could help protect against diabetes and excessive blood lipids [which are connected to excessive weight]. However, these are just observations that may be accounted for by many other explanations and have not been studied enough to draw any reasonable conclusions.”
Could weed actually cause weight gain?
Even if stoners are lighter on average, that doesn’t mean you can smoke as much as you want without gaining weight, said Marina Yuabova, family nurse practitioner and Assistant Professor at the City University of New York, pointing out that in the aforementioned study, in a sub-group of people who smoked weed occasionally but didn’t smoke cigarettes, the heavier the cannabis use, the heavier the people. So, even though smokers were thinner overall, it depended on how much they smoked. “When cannabis is used over a long time, it will influence weight gain due to munchies and cravings for sweets and salty snacks,” she suggested.
Joan Conklin, a 32-year-old writer in New York City, can attest to this. “Using cannabis made me gain weight because I got the munchies and I was lazy,” she said. “I got so much enjoyment out of music and reading and just existing that I didn’t get out of the apartment much.”
Jason, a 36-year-old teacher in the UK, gained around 30 pounds over two years after he started smoking. “For me, it increased unhealthy diet decisions,” he said. Meanwhile some people specifically use weed to gain weight, pointed out June Chin, a doctor on the medical advisory board at cannabisMD. So there’s really no consensus about what kind of effect weed has on weight.
There might be a biological purpose for the munchies
Regardless of weed’s impact on weight, it’s possible that the munchies serve a purpose, said James Giordano, professor of neurology and biochemistry at Georgetown University Medical Center. Cannabinoids can suppress your appetite, he explained—to put it scientifically, it causes changes in the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin, as well as appetite-regulating hormones like leptin and ghrelin, which may make you less hungry and more easily satisfied.
So, the munchies often show up not right as you get stoned but after some time. “When most people are stoned, they’re not eating,” Giordano said. “As they start to come out, they get a rebound in appetite.” Often, people will crave high-fat meals when they have the munchies because they need the calories, he said.
But Tishler disagrees with this characterization, saying that cannabis does not suppress appetite, and the munchies can set in during the acute intoxication phase.
Ok, regardless: How do you prevent weight gain from weed munchies?
If you’ve eaten an edible, you’re less likely to get the munchies for obvious reasons: you’ve already taken in some calories, so your body releases leptin, which suppresses your appetite, said Giordano. If you want to avoid the munchies, then an edible may be the way to go—it not only will fill you up but also will have a more prolonged appetite-suppressant effect because it’s metabolized more slowly.
But beware that regardless of your method of ingestion, it is absolutely possible to gain weight from the munchies, Tishler said. “Calories are calories. If your intake exceeds your metabolic expenditure, you will store that energy as fat,” he said. “Even if cannabis is somehow mildly protective against weight gain—again, this is entirely unproven—it can certainly be overwhelmed by high calorie intake.”
If you’re concerned about gaining weight from the munchies, Tishler recommends avoiding high-calorie cannabis products like brownies, which are about 250 calories on average. And if you get the munchies, try to satisfy them with nutritious, lower-calorie foods. Your discipline may not be at its highest when you’re stoned, so you may want to have foods you’ll feel good about eating available before you get high. “If you have Doritos in the house, likely you’ll eat them,” he said. “If you don’t and have baby carrots, you’ll eat those instead. Plan to have abundant healthy, crunchy snacks on hand, and be sure you do not have the option for making less-good choices while under the influence.”
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The relationship between cannabis, snacking, and weight is complicated.
Does Smoking Weed Really Make You Lose Weight?
Whether or not you’ve ever smoked weed, you’ve probably heard of the munchies — that overpowering drive to eat all the snacks after smoking weed.
But others swear that smoking weed not only makes them eat less, but also makes them lose weight.
Using marijuana may be associated with lower body weight, but it’s not as straightforward as it sounds.
Here’s a look at what we do and don’t know about the relationship between smoking weed and weight loss.
A lot of the noise around smoking weed for weight loss comes from a 2011 review of two surveys. The authors concluded that rates of obesity were higher among people who reported not using marijuana compared to rates among those who used marijuana at least 3 days a week.
Shortly before those results were published, a study examining the association between cannabis and obesity in young people made similar conclusions.
Most recently, a meta-analysis of the relationship between cannabis use and body mass index (BMI) showed that cannabis users had significantly lower BMIs and obesity rates but an increased calorie intake.
It’s important to remember that this research simply suggests there are some links between marijuana use and lower body weight. It’s unclear what’s behind this link, and there’s not enough evidence to say that using marijuana is an effective way to lose weight. Plus, using marijuana comes with its own risks and downsides (more on this later).
Experts have a few theories on why marijuana use is linked to reduced BMI and lower risks of obesity.
It can increase mobility
When used properly, marijuana may relieve symptoms of pain and stiffness. This means people with mobility issues may find that they can be more active when using marijuana.
It may cause some people to drink less
Some experts suspect that younger people who use marijuana may consume less alcohol than those who don’t. This means they’re not taking in calories from alcoholic drinks, which could contribute to lower BMIs.
It can lower stress
Stress eating is a very real thing. Studies show that people are more likely to overeat and reach for comfort foods when stressed.
It’s no secret that weed can ease anxiety and help calm you when you’re feeling stressed. Some believe that this might replace stress eating for some people.
It may improve sleep
Poor sleep can be a factor in weight gain. There’s some evidence that cannabis may improve insomnia. Plus, it may help reduce stress and pain, two of the main culprits behind poor sleep.
It may boost metabolism
There’s some evidence that cannabis interacts with cannabinoid receptor 1 , which plays a role in metabolism and food intake. High amounts of cannabis appear to increase metabolism and reduce energy storage, resulting in a lower BMI.
Using marijuana doesn’t cause sudden weight loss. But experts believe it may help with some underlying factors that can contribute to weight gain in some people.
Much more research is needed to fully understand the link between marijuana use and weight.
The research around marijuana and weight loss catches some people off guard because of the long-standing association between marijuana and major snacking.
Indeed, a recent study showed an increase in sales of junk food, which the authors largely defined as chips, cookies, and ice cream, in U.S. states where marijuana is now legal.
How can people be eating more and losing weight while smoking weed? Researchers are still trying to figure out the specifics, but a balancing act between two major cannabinoids in marijuana might offer some explanation.
THC, the psychoactive compound that produces weed’s “high,” has been shown to trigger hunger. It’s the reason why people sometimes use cannabis as an appetite stimulant.
CBD, on the other hand, seems to counteract certain effects of THC, including its appetite-boosting and mood-altering effects.
At first glance, the research might seem to suggest that smoking weed is a good way to lose weight. But there’s no evidence that using marijuana directly causes weight loss.
It might contribute indirectly by helping with certain issues, including chronic pain and poor sleep, that can contribute to higher body weight.
Plus, using marijuana isn’t without risks, especially if you smoke it.
Marijuana smoke contains many of the same irritants, toxins, and cancer-causing agents as tobacco smoke, according to the American Lung Association.
And because weed smokers inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in longer, they’re exposed to more tar per breath than cigarette smokers.
Over time, smoking weed damages your lungs and airways, reducing respiratory function and increasing your risk for lung infections and even lung cancer.
It can also weaken your immune system, which interferes with your body’s ability to fight disease.
Then there’s the whole issue of misuse and dependence. Up to 30 percent of users have some degree of marijuana use disorder, according to recent data. Younger people are especially at risk, particularly people who use marijuana before the age of 18.
Even though there’s some evidence that smoking weed may affect weight, a lot more research is needed.
Plus, smoking still does more harm than good, even if it’s just marijuana. Using marijuana through nonsmoking methods may offer some health benefits, but it’s not recommended for weight loss.
Last medically reviewed on October 30, 2019
Yes, there's some evidence linking marijuana use to lower body weight, but it's not that simple.