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Bold Opinion: Despite What You Think, There Is No Link Between Marijuana and Obesity

a man using a measuring tape to measure his waist line amid the discussion on marijuana and obesity

The anecdotal evidence is so pervasive, it’s almost assumed to be fact: marijuana use leads to marijuana munchies. Munchies means eating. Therefore, marijuana and obesity are linked. That notion, however, is false.

Currently, 33 states allow medical use of marijuana. Ten of these states allow recreational use as well. Clearly, times are changing. And these new “high” times would logically produce unexpected effects—especially when it comes to public health and obesity. But are marijuana and obesity connected? From increased junk food sales to marijuana and weight loss phenomena, the issue is more complex than you might think. Yet the numbers don’t lie. The link between marijuana and obesity is actually weaker than the link between marijuana and weight loss.

The Science Behind Marijuana Munchies

Several studies have been conducted on mice to delineate the link between getting high and marijuana munchies. While the clear-cut mechanism has yet to be defined, much has been learned. Cannabinoid, a key component of marijuana, has been found to stimulate the hypothalamus in the brain. The hypothalamus controls hunger and satiety sensations. And the region where cannabinoid works on involves specific neuron receptors in this area.

You might expect the answer to be straightforward. In other words, it would be logical to think that the cannabinoid would stimulate the hypothalamus to increase hunger, thus causing the marijuana munchies. But in fact, the area which the cannabinoid stimulates would actually be expected to inhibit our appetites. Naturally, this case is contrary anecdotal experience, but it might offer insight about marijuana and weight loss effects.

As it turns out, cannabinoid seems to have two different effects on the hypothalamus according to one theory. The immediate use leads to a sudden increase in appetite at a sub-cellular level in the hypothalamus. But long term, cannabinoid actually depletes the body’s energy stores and increases our metabolic rate. This fact may be why the long-term association of marijuana and weight loss exists.

Marijuana Munchies and Shifts in Behaviors

Brain research shows varying effects of marijuana on hunger and potential weight changes. But how does this finding affect our behaviors?  In a recent study out of the University of Connecticut and Georgia State University, researchers sought to examine this. Using the Nielsen Retail Scanner data from 2,000 U.S. counties over a 10-year period, junk food purchases were evaluated. Purchases of chips, cookies and ice cream were tallied from a variety of retail food centers. Based on this gathered data, it was determined that the case of marijuana munchies is indeed a real thing.

By comparing states where marijuana had been legalized for recreational use to those that had not, interesting insights were found. Specifically, in the ensuing months after legalization, ice cream purchases rose over 3 percent. Cookies also increased by more than 4 percent with chips by 5 percent. The researchers thus found a significant increase in junk food purchases in support of marijuana munchies. And they now plan to analyze the data in relation to obesity rates further.

Exploring Marijuana and Weight Loss

While marijuana munchies might seem to be intuitively linked to weight gain, this idea has not been supported by research. In fact, marijuana and weight loss as a topic is the norm in several studies. One study compared weights of non-users to those who recently quit, those who recently started, and persistent users of marijuana. Compared to non-users, the connection between the usage of marijuana and weight loss among users were quite clear.

However, the result of using marijuana and weight loss is inconclusive. As mentioned before, marijuana increases the body’s metabolism over longer periods of time, which obviously burns more calories. However, behavioral effects may also be at play. For example, after having the marijuana munchies, a person may become weight- and diet- conscious to a greater extent. Regardless, it is noteworthy that evidence currently does not support an association between marijuana use and obesity.

a cartoon of two men arguing about the linking of marijuana munchies to obesity
Marijuana does indeed trigger marijuana munchies, and marijuana use in the long term is not linked to obesity. These are the facts.

The Bottom Line on the Discussion on Marijuana and Obesity

Marijuana does indeed trigger marijuana munchies, and marijuana use in the long term is not linked to obesity. These are the facts. But of course, more research needs to be done.

Reviews of the scientific literature show that inadequate information about marijuana use and its relation to general health. For example, marijuana’s effects on the risk of diabetes, lipid disorders, and heart disease all remain unknown. These conditions may be negatively impacted by the marijuana munchies and the junk foods craved. Thus, while marijuana and weight loss appear linked, the jury is out on the case of the overall health impact of marijuana use. Although marijuana doesn’t definitively contribute to rising obesity rates, it doesn’t mean it may not cause a significant negative impact on public health.

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