A common stereotype associated with stoned cannabis users is a ravenous appetite and an insatiable desire for junk food. While there’s certainly plenty of comic exaggeration in this image, anyone who has smoked or vaporized cannabis more than a few times has almost certainly experienced some form of increased appetite. This common characteristic of many strains is known as “the munchies.” Recent research, however, has revealed that chronic cannabis smokers are actually less likely to be overweight or obese than their non-smoking peers.
Obesity is defined as an individual’s weight that is higher than what is considered to be healthy for a given height. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used as a screening tool for obesity and is a measurement that compares weight and height. Obesity is a serious health concern for society — and considered to be an epidemic by many physicians and medical professionals — because it is known to reduce life expectancy and significantly increase health problems.
THCV for Appetite Suppression
There are more than 110 cannabinoids found in cannabis. These special molecules — along with about 200 terpenes, the chemicals responsible for its potent aroma — provide a wide variety of medicinal and psychoactive effects. One such cannabinoid, THCV, a cousin to THC, delivers a pronounced efficacy: Appetite suppression.
It is generalized that indica strains, which generally lack THCV, that produce the munchies. Sativas, higher in THCV, act in an opposite manner. This is more evidence of the vast differences between sativa and indica strains and why patients and recreational consumers alike should recognize and seek out those strains that are best suited to treat their particular disease or deliver the appropriate level of energy or pain relief.
GW Pharmaceuticals, a British cannabis-focused biopharmaceutical company, has researched THCV and learned that it plays a role in metabolism and the processing of fat and carbohydrates. The company stated that THCV may be a key in the therapeutic management of conditions like obesity. Wrote the company:
“In pre-clinical studies, THCV has shown effects on body weight, body fat content, energy expenditure, food intake, and other obesity-related parameters.”
For many patients, especially those suffering from conditions like HIV/AIDS, cancer, and Crohn’s disease — where appetite stimulation is the goal — cannabis strains high in THCV may actually be detrimental. Research continues to illustrate that different strains of pot deliver very different benefits; a variety that provides relief for one condition may be ineffective or even inappropriate for another.
A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Alcohol Abuse reported that those who smoke cannabis on a regular basis are more likely to have a lower BMI. The study followed more than 2,500 people from birth through the age of 21.
“The existing data suggest lower prevalence of overweight and obesity among young adult cannabis users.”
This study stressed that additional research is necessary to understand the nuanced manner in which cannabis affects body weight, fat content, and overall BMI. The entourage effect — coupled with subjective efficacy — means that a particular sample of cannabis may deliver different effects in even small populations of patients.
A 2011 study conducted in France and published in the American Journal of Epidemiology discovered that obesity rates are about one-third lower in those who consume cannabis on a regular basis versus those who do not. The study involved two surveys, the first of which revealed that 22 percent of participants who did not smoke or vape cannabis during the past 12 months were obese, versus only 14 percent of regular pot smokers (those who partake at least three days per week). In the second survey, it was revealed that 25 percent of nonsmokers were obese, while only 17 percent of cannabis users were significantly overweight. “The authors conclude that the prevalence of obesity is lower in cannabis users than in nonusers.”
The reason for two surveys? Researchers had anticipated that cannabis consumers would show a higher incidence of obesity due to the stereotypical onset of the munchies. When results proved contrary, researchers decided to validate their findings by conducting a second survey.
“We were so surprised, we thought we had [encountered] a mistake. So we turned to another completely independent sample and found exactly the same association.”
More Research Needed
Until more research is conducted regarding the role of cannabis and specific cannabinoids, such as THCV, in obesity and metabolism, medical professionals, patients, and caregivers with be hampered by ignorance. As long as cannabis remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act of the U.S. federal government, universities and other organizations will be prevented from conducting robust research or human trials involving cannabis as medicine for literally hundreds of different diseases and conditions.
Unknown to many, highly addictive drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine actually reside in less restrictive Schedule II, meaning the federal government considers them safer and less addictive than cannabis; they can even be prescribed by a doctor. Until the Controlled Substances Act is overhauled or cannabis is rescheduled, vital research data regarding the efficacy of the medical cannabis for conditions like obesity, diabetes, and anorexia will be sorely lacking.