Food For Thought

Salt, school lunches and the intersection of food, wellness and public policy.

Will Legalization of Marijuana Lead to More Obesity?

Appetite-stimulating cannabis may cause your figure to go to pot

A few states recently legalized the use of marijuana for medical conditions, with Colorado and Washington State legalizing small amounts for recreational use too. But will the expanding use of marijuana lead to expanding waistlines?

Marijuana contains a group of appetite stimulants called cannabinoids. Our own bodies produce cannabinoids called “endocannabinoids,” that when attached to cannabinoid receptors, create feelings of bliss and hunger. The most potent marijuana-derived bliss chemical is delta-9-trans-tetrahydrocannabinol or THC. It binds to cannabinoid loving receptors that are sprinkled throughout the brain and body. A high concentration of these receptors is housed in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that regulates appetite, hunger and satiety.

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Cannabis Ravenous

When inhaled, cannabinoids are rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and peak 2-10 minutes after inhalation. Within 30 minutes, there is a steep decline. So, when someone smokes weed, levels of THC rise within a few minutes, bind to brain receptors and trigger the munchies for highly palatable foods like onion rings, fries, chips and candy.

Cannabinoids effect on appetite is highly variable, but in general, there is an increased intake in calories, particularly of fatty foods. Consumption of high fat foods further stimulates endocannabinoid release, enhancing the desire to seek out and devour bags of chips. However, munchie mayhem doesn’t necessarily translate to weight gain. Surveys of cannabis aficionados show that many are skinny. This isn’t to say that smoking weed will make you rail thin since many of those surveyed may have had medical conditions that limit weight gain. Appetite stimulation might be a wanted side effect in those with cancer or HIV who have a hard time gaining weight due to poor appetite. But for the otherwise healthy individual, smoking dope might lead to weight gain.

Public health officials are keeping their eyes on states that have chosen to approve pot. It will curious to see if obesity rates increase. In the meantime, for those partaking in legal pot smoking, if you are fearful of weight gain, stay out of fast food joints after smoking joints and hide the chips.

Some Resources:

Di Marzo V. Endocannabinoids: an appetite for fat. PNAS 2011, 108(31):12567-68.

WEBMD. Fattest and Fittest States in the Country. http://www.webmd.com/diet/ss/slideshow-fattest-and-fittest-states

State Marijuana Laws. http://www.governing.com/gov-data/state-marijuana-laws-map-medica...

Foltin RW et al. Effects of smoked marijuana on food intake and body weight of humans living in a residential laboratory.  Appetite. 1988;11(1):1-14.

 

Martina M. Cartwright, Ph.D., R.D., is an adjunct professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Arizona and an independent biomedical consultant.

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