Cannabis may spark the munchies — so why aren't users gaining weight?Posted by On

When Cody Lindsay gets the munchies, fuzzy peach candies are his go-to snack. The former navy vet, who served as a cook and now publishes recipes as The Wellness Soldier, is also known for his decadent chocolate cheesecake pot brownies.

But while the 37-year-old describes himself as “a touch overweight,” he doesn’t think the onslaught of edibles about to hit the Canadian market puts us at risk of a collective pot belly.

Research on the correlation between cannabis consumption and appetite dates back decades. A 1988 study out of John Hopkins University, for example, found that subjects who smoked marijuana ate 40 per cent more calories than a control group.

Fast-forward 30 years and a survey commissioned by licensed marijuana retailer National Access Cannabis found that 28 per cent of 1,525 respondents cited eating as the most enjoyable activity after ingesting marijuana — compared to only 17.5 per cent who cited “having sex.”

We found that users, even those who just started, were more likely to be at a normal, healthier weigh

Omayma Alshaarawy, lead author

There’s a scientific explanation for these cravings. THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive constituent of cannabis, stimulates the release of ghrelin, a hormone normally released when the stomach is empty. According to a study conducted by a neuroscientist in Bordeaux, THC may also enhance the olfactory system, another trigger for eating.

That marijuana specifically spikes cravings for junk food is also clear. By tracking retail data in American states that had legalized cannabis, economists found that monthly sales of “high calorie food” increased by 3.1 per cent for ice cream, 4.1 per cent for cookies and 5.3 per cent for chips.

All that snacking, however, does not seem to pack on the pounds. Researchers at Michigan State University looked at data on 33,000 subjects collected over a three-year period by the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions.

“We found that users, even those who just started, were more likely to be at a normal, healthier weight and stay at that weight,” said lead author Omayma Alshaarawy. “Only 15 per cent of persistent users were considered obese compared to 20 per cent of non-users.”

While investigating the impact of cannabis use on the appetite of cancer patients, MariaLuisa Vigano also found there was an increase in appetite but “no statistically significant increase in weight.”

Weed as diet aid isn’t quite there yet, though.

Antonio Vigano is an oncologist and professor at McGill University who sees significant decrease in appetite among his patients. So when his daughter, then 17, conducted a study showing cannabis consumption improved their appetites he encouraged her to share her findings with professional groups.

MariaLuisa Vigano / MASCC


But he warns that recreational users may suffer indirect negative consequences to marijuana consumption that make it a poor approach to simply slimming down.

Users may be more prone to consuming alcohol, for example, or may be less active. “These factors could aggravate pre-existing conditions such as obesity, and borderline glucose intolerance, as well as increase the risk of diabetes,” he said.

Michigan State’s Alshaarawy is similarly cautious. She speculated that the difference “could be the cannabis use itself, which can modify how certain cells, or receptors, respond in the body and can ultimately affect weight gain.” But it could equally be that cannabis users are conscious of the weight gain that can come from the munchies, so they adjust their diets accordingly.

Chefs who specialize in cannabis-infused menus are doing their bit to counter the perception that edibles equals brownies or other junk food.

Vancouver-based Travis Petersen travels across the country preparing private cannabis-infused dinners that include healthy ingredients and spotlight culinary creativity — not just bites with buzz. Lately he’s been working on a ginger, carrot and turmeric soup infused with CBD or cannabidiol. “It’s designed to eat after jogging or golfing,” Petersen said.

Lindsay also promotes “clean eating” (the odd brownie notwithstanding) and works out at his local gym four times a week. Instead of fuzzy peach candy, he says, he now plans ahead when he consumes cannabis so he has healthy options on hand.  “I might have a fresh peach – or a smoothie,” he said.

As for pot gummies and other junk often featured in media coverage of legal edibles?

Zeid Mohamedali, a B.C urologist and chief medical officer at Zenabis, a licensed producer of medical and recreational cannabis, points out that infused candies will contain a relatively small volume of sugar, and he anticipates that consumers will eat small amounts at one time.

If anything, Mohamedali is more concerned about the possible risks of tooth decay — not obesity.

“It’s probably not a bad idea for the people who will consume gummies to have good oral hygiene,” he said.

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