Can Marijuana Make You Gain Weight?

Hand Holding Marijuana Leaf with Cannabis Plants in Background

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A prevailing stereotype of marijuana users is that they always have the munchies. A body of evidence suggests that long-term cannabis use can lead to weight gain, particularly in men. With that being said, its effects on weight differ by plant strain, dose, route of administration, and frequency of use.

How Marijuana Influences Weight Gain

Different strains of marijuana will have varying concentrations of cannabinoids, including tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), and terpenes. These psychoactive chemicals act on CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain that make up the endocannabinoid system, which plays a key role in regulating appetite, stress, and pain sensations, among a host of other factors that impact weight gain.

Appetite Stimulation

Whether smoked or eaten, cannabis affects the neurobiological circuits that control appetite, causing a temporary increase in the "munchies". According to a 2015 study from the Yale University School of Medicine, activation of the CB1 receptor acted on by THC increases feeding behaviors and leads to decreased activity of the neurons responsible for feelings of satiety.

The effect is known to be considerable and one that can be used in medical practice to stimulate appetite in people with cancer, advanced HIV infection, and other serious medical conditions. 

Appetite stimulation doesn't inherently translate into weight gain, however. Within the HIV population, marijuana may help stifle weight loss but does little to reverse the wasting that can accompany serious illness.

What this suggests is that appetite stimulation is only part of what triggers weight gain in certain cannabis users.

Effect on Athletic Performance

Cannabis users have been observed to show marked decreases in performance, steadiness, reaction time, and psychomotor performance for up to six hours following use. This can make exercises like rock climbing or heavy-weight lifting more dangerous, a deterrent which, along with the muscle-relaxing properties of particular strains, may promote weight gain simply by decreasing a person's capacity for exercise.

According to research, THC significantly elevates the resting heart rate (RHR) and blood pressure during and after physical training, decreasing a person's overall tolerance for exercise.

That said, cannabis has also been shown to decrease pain and to inhibit exercise-induced asthma, which could make it a helpful adjunct to simple exercises that chronically ill patients otherwise couldn't do.

If many pain patients switch to medical cannabis for pain management in places where it is legal at the state level, it will become important to research these effects more thoroughly.

Even in cases where light exercise may not be negatively impacted by cannabis use, it is still not likely to lead to peak performance.

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Peripheral cannabinoid receptors activated by THC are involved in regulating pancreatic function and lipid metabolism. According to research published in 2015 by the American Diabetes Association, compared to non-users, cannabis smokers tend to have a higher percentage of abdominal visceral fat and increased insulin resistance, in addition to lower plasma HDL cholesterol.

It has been suggested, that strains of cannabis that are high to moderately high in THC are more likely to trigger weight gain, particularly among regular users.

Among healthy people who regularly use cannabis, there is a significant difference in how the drug influences weight if you are male or female.

A study conducted in 2015 by researchers at the University of Montreal found that cannabis use triggered significant and consistent weight gain in men, but not in women.

Although the reason for this remains unclear, the scientists suggested that differences in neurobiological targets, as well as general psychology, played a part.

A Word From Verywell

Although the association between weight gain and marijuana use is anything but conclusive, there is enough evidence to suggest that it can influence weight in certain people, especially frequent users who are male, who use cannabis strains higher in THC, or who have other risk factors for obesity or metabolic syndrome.

If you believe you have a marijuana addiction problem, contact the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence at 800-622-2255 for a referral to a treatment center in your area.

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Article Sources

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  3. Kennedy, M. Cannabis: Exercise performance and support. A systematic review. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 2017;20(9).825-829. doi:10.1016/j.jsams.2017.03.012

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