Never mind the munchies. Marijuana users may have a lower risk of obesity than those who don’t smoke pot, according to a new study.
The results show that prevalence of obesity is lower among people who frequently smoke cannabis compared to those who never use, reports Rachael Rettner at My Health News Daily.
“We found that cannabis users are less likely to be obese than non-users,” said Dr. Yann Le Strat, a French psychiatrist and co-author of the new study, reports Philip Caulfield of the New York Daily News. “We were so surprised, we thought we had [made]a mistake.”
“Cannabis is supposed to increase appetite,” Le Strat said, reports The Week. “So we hypothesized that cannabis users would be more likely to have higher weight than non-users and be more likely to be obese.”
The scientists were so surprised by their initial results, they examined a second sample of people to confirm — and found the same correlation again. Together, the two studies looked at more than 50,000 people.
The reason behind the lower risk of being overweight among marijuana smokers is not clear. It could be that cannabis users also engage in other behaviors that lower their obesity risk. Pot smokers could exercise more or have specific dietary habits that keep the pounds off, according to Le Strat, a psychiatrist at Louis Mourier Hospital in France.
“On a personal point of view, I would be surprised that cannabis use is associated with a higher rate of physical activity, but this cannot be ruled out,” Le Strat said.
Another possibility is that some of the components of cannabis — the cannabinoids — may help people lose or keep off weight. If this is the case, scientists should investigate which components, Le Strat said.
|Michelle Aldrich: “I don’t know too many fat marijuana smokers”|
The findings were counterintuitive, but very few studies have examined the link between cannabis use and obesity.
Marijuana activist Michelle Aldrich said she wasn’t surprised. “I don’t know too many fat marijuana smokers,” she said.
Aldrich thinks it could be related to the body’s endocannabinoid system, a group of receptors in the brain and elsewhere in the body which respond to the compounds in marijuana.
Le Strat and his colleagues examined data from two U.S. surveys, the National Epidemiological Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) and the National Comorbodity Survey-Replication, involving about 41,600 and 9,100 people, respectively.
Between four and seven percent of participants in the surveys reported using marijuana at least once in the past year.
Obesity was assessed using the body mass index (BMI) of the participants.
The survey showed that about 22 to 25 percent of people who don’t smoke pot were obese, while only 16 to 17 percent of marijuana users were obese.
And that’s not all. Obesity was less common among those who smoke pot more frequently. For example, the NESARC survey showed about 14 percent of participants who use marijuana three days a week or more were obese, according to researchers. Between 0.7 and 1.89 percent of the sample smoked marijuana this frequently.
The participants were responsible for reporting their own BMI as well as their cannabis use, so if they gave inaccurate estimates of either, the results could be skewed.
The study was published August 24 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
It didn’t take long for the results to become about money. One of the authors of the study has already submitted a patent application in Canada entitled “Use of Marijuana and Compounds Therein for Treating Obesity.”