Frequent Pot Users Slimmer than Non-Users, Mouse Study Suggests

Despite the munchies, cannabis is probably making you slimmer in the long run, new findings from UC Irvine suggest.

If you want to get slimmer and have a beach body in time for this summer, try consuming weed frequently.

Frequent cannabis consumers may be leaner with a lower body mass index (BMI) than their non-consumer counterparts, data from a new study of mouse models suggests. While the munchies can induce appetite short-term, the overall effects of frequent cannabis use suggest something bigger is at play.

The study, “Adolescent exposure to low-dose THC disrupts energy balance and adipose organ homeostasis in adulthood,” was published June 1 in the journal Cell Metabolism and announced in a press release. While initially setting out to determine BMI levels, the researchers noted few other observations that could explain the overall effects of cannabis.

Per usual given the legal restraints in the U.S., the study was limited to mouse models. Researchers observed adolescent male and female mice that were treated once daily with a dose of THC (5 mg/kg). They found that THC-exposed mice of both sexes gained significantly less weight than control mice did. The researchers ruled out nearly every other conceivable factor: Subsequent analyses, focusing on males, showed that this effect could not be attributed to changes in growth rate, head length, tail length, femur length and weight, locomotor activity, food intake, or nutrient absorption.

One study author said that if we only think of cannabis as psychoactive—we’re being one-dimensional.

“All too often we think of cannabis only as a psychoactive drug,” said Daniele Piomelli, PhD, director for the UCI Center for the Study of Cannabis, the Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Nuerosciences, and professor in the UCI School of Medicine Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology.

She continued, “But, its effects extend well beyond the brain. Its main constituent, THC, mimics a group of chemical messengers called endocannabinoids, which regulate important functions throughout the body. Our results show that interfering with endocannabinoid signaling during adolescence disrupts adipose organ function in a permanent way, with potentially far-reaching consequences on physical and mental health.”

Courtesy Cell Metabolism

While the study showed a lower BMI in frequent consumers, they also noted that they observed changes in metabolism that could present several unknowns, especially in teens with bodies that are still developing.

The researchers noticed a few other things: The mice on THC were partially resistant to obesity and hyperglycemia, but they had higher-than-normal body temperature, and were unable to mobilize fuel from fat stores. Several of these features are also evident in humans who frequently use cannabis, they said.

The cells of mice treated with THC looked normal at the microscope but produced large amounts of muscle proteins in fat. (They’re not supposed to be there.) Muscle, on the other hand, was observed with fewer of those same proteins. 

Though still far too early to be confirmed, researchers guessed that these “alien” proteins could interfere with the function of fat cells and their ability to store and release nutrients. They guessed these changes could impact mental processes, such as attention.

As it turns out, the evidence to suggest smokers are leaner was always there, and the data is plentiful.

“Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies have consistently reported lower BMI in healthy cannabis users compared with non-users, as well as inverse associations of cannabis use with BMI, waist circumference, and other cardiometabolic risk factors,” the study reports, with 16 sources cited.

In 2017, a longitudinal study from researchers in Denmark destroyed the long-standing myth that smoking weed causes weight gain.

The study was primarily funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

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