When you think of cannabis, you probably imagine getting the 'munchies' and binging on whatever food tickles your fancy to satisfy your ravenous hunger.
While that may be true for your average THC-laden marijuana joint, not all cannabinoids are associated with soaring hunger pangs.
Research shows cannabis and weight loss could be possible, thanks to two specific chemical compounds in the plant, known as cannabinoids. More specifically, THCV and CBD are two cannabinoids that have been linked to appetite suppression and may actually help you shed unwanted weight instead.
So, how can certain cannabinoids help put a lid on weight gain and even help reduce the numbers on the scale?
You already know all about the link between marijuana and bouts of the munchies. But what's the science behind the chemicals that cause users to polish off a bag of chips, a batch of cookies, and a couple of pizzas?
One of the ways that science has explained the link between marijuana use and the munchies is the heightened sensitivity to the smells of food as a result of THC consumption. Since scent and taste are so closely associated with one another, THC may allow us to taste flavors more acutely.
One study found that THC fits into receptors in the olfactory bulb of the brain in mice, which can significantly enhance the rodents' ability to smell food and entice them to consume more of it. According to the neuroscientists associated with this study, a major reason why you’d reach for food after using cannabis is that your sense of smell and taste are enhanced.
Other scientific research shows that the triggering of the munchies after using marijuana has to do with the endocannabinoid system in the body. When THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) binds to CB1 receptors of the system and subsequently activates them, appetite can increase. That's because appetite is regulated by the endocannabinoid system, as are many other things, such as mood and pain.
CB1 receptors are part of the natural endocannabinoid system and are located in various parts of the body, but mainly in the brain and spinal cord. And although CB1 receptors are found all over the body, there are certain areas that are linked to the munchies as a result of consuming cannabis, including in the hypothalamus. It's these cannabinoid receptors that THC binds to and activates.
According to research, neurons in the hypothalamus, known as proopiomelanocortin neurons - or POMCs - are activated when THC is introduced in the body. Instead of releasing chemicals that help promote satiety, POMCs release beta-endorphins after THC consumption, which stimulate the appetite and trigger food cravings.
Considering this effect of THC, it may be an effective supplement for patients suffering from cancer or HIV-associated wasting syndrome; both can have a detrimental effect on body weight.
Based on the notion of eating more as a direct result of using cannabis, it would stand to reason that more weight would be gained as a result. But surprisingly, this isn’t always the case.
In fact, it's been found that those who regularly use marijuana actually have a lower body mass index (BMI) - a measure of body fat based on weight relative to height. Anything over 30 is considered in the range of obesity.
Studies suggest that cannabis use is linked to lower BMIs in users. One particular study found that the BMIs of regular female marijuana users was 3.1% lower than non-marijuana users, and 2.7% lower in regular male marijuana users compared to non-users — it's safe to say the munchies aren't making cannabis users obese or contributing to skyrocketing obesity rates.
Up to now, we've been talking mainly about THC and the CB1 receptors in the brain that THC binds to and activates, thereby triggering cravings. But the endocannabinoid system is also made up of CB2 receptors that are found throughout the body and in the immune system, though they can also be found in the brain.
While THC activates CB1 receptors - which is what causes psychoactive effects in the brain - cannabidiol (CBD) inhibits it. In fact, CBD may actually help to offset the 'high' that users experience when they use THC-rich cannabis strains.
In addition to CBD's differing effect on the brain compared to THC, it also differs in its effect on appetite. While THC may stimulate the appetite, CBD can do the opposite. There are no 'munchies' associated with consuming CBD.
THC has a stronger affinity to bind to CB1 receptors in the brain, while CBD tends to interact more with CB2 receptors, which is why it has medical benefits without causing any mind-altering effects.
But when it comes to weight loss, studies suggest that CBD's ability to serve as a CB1 receptor antagonist may be linked to appetite suppression, and may even help to reduce the onset of obesity. In fact, CBD may be able to influence other molecules to block off CB1 receptors, which can then reduce the appetite and weaken the need to eat.
And CBD isn't the only cannabinoid that may be able to put a lift on appetite. THCV may also play a role.
Unlike THC, which stimulates the appetite, THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) suppresses it. While THC might be better suited for those who need to gain weight or whose appetite may have been negatively affected, THCV may be ideal for those who are looking to either maintain or lose weight.
Read More: The Science of Cannabis Testing
Did you know that there is a certain type of body fat that burns calories? The main form of fat that we're familiar with - known as 'white fat' - is found all over the body, but predominantly in areas such as the abdomen, thighs, and hips.
It's this type of fat that is used to store energy. When the body is not receiving enough calories to match daily energy expenditure, it starts to access stores of body fat to be used as a fuel source. That's how people lose weight, and is a well-understood concept.
But there's another type of body fat that is involved in generating heat and burning calories. It’s known as 'brown fat.' Since calorie burning is associated with weight loss, more of this type of fat may help to shed unwanted body fat and achieve an ideal weight.
So, where does cannabis fit into this picture? Studies suggest that CBD may be associated with 'fat browning', which refers to the conversion of white fat - the type of body fat that we tend to want to lose - into brown fat. In turn, this fat browning may help to burn more calories and therefore help with weight loss.
CBD may also help to reduce the risk of metabolic disorders, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and high levels of 'bad' cholesterol, or LDL cholesterol.
When overactivated, CB1 receptors may lead to obesity and metabolic risk. But CBD may be able to help minimize the risk of developing any of these disorders by blocking off these particular receptors.
If the idea of cannabinoids being effective at helping to suppress the appetite and having a chemical influence on your stored body fat has piqued your interest enough to try it, you'll want to find a strain that possesses the right cannabinoids and ratios to help suppress your appetite.
More specifically, strains with high THCV and CBD may be the types you should stick to. According to lab results, THCV is most abundant in sativa strains, which tend to induce a more energizing experience.
Here are a few cannabis products that may be ideal for keeping your appetite at bay:
Hawaiian Dutch - This sativa-dominant strain has a sativa:indica ratio of 70:30 and may be effective at treating anxiety, depression, anxiety, fatigue, and suppressing the appetite. It features an earthy and citrusy taste and aroma.
Pie Face OG - Featuring a cherry-like flavor and smell, Pie Face OG is slightly sativa dominant with a sativa:indica ratio of about 60:40. It's associated with providing mental clarity in users.
Pineapple Purps - With a THC:THCV ratio of 3:1, this strain is psychoactive because of its THC content, though its high THCV cannabinoid profile offsets the THC's effect, shortening the duration of the high. Pineapple Purps provides a feeling of energy and is great at suppressing the appetite.
Doug's Varin - This rare strain features a citrusy and earthy pine aroma and has a high THCV content and is known to suppress hunger, as well as promote mental clarity and stimulate energy.
Read More: High CBD Strains for Maximum Mental Wellness
Cannabis has been quickly gaining quite a bit of steam in the medical and wellness spheres, thanks to the plethora of potential health effects it may have on the mind and body, including weight loss. And a handful of studies of the effects of cannabis have linked certain cannabis cannabinoids with appetite suppression and loss of body fat.
That said, the effects of cannabis on weight loss depends on the person's health condition and lifestyle. Like any other weight loss supplement, cannabis cannot and should not be relied upon solely to lose weight, as diet and exercise play a significant role in maintaining a healthy weight. More clinical trials are needed to solidify the effectiveness of cannabis on weight loss.