At the surface it does not seem to make sense. How can anything that compels people to “munch out” on a variety of less than healthy foods actually help people get thinner?
Fortunately, a new study pending publication from Indiana University may shed some light on how this all works. At this point it is theoretical, but it is very compelling. To begin to understand this we have to look at the human endocannabinoid system, which, as it turns out, happens to be the largest receptor system in the human body. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for things like regulating sleep, appetite, stress, and metabolism. When receptors in this system are stimulated it can produce a wide range of physiological effects. And that may end up being the key to the mystery. One thing the study does show is that cannabis users tend to be thinner than their counterparts.
There are a few things which are well established. Western diets—exceptionally high in carbs and sugar—are often associated with a series of chronic health conditions such as obesity. One common factor among people who suffer from these conditions is that they have a higher ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the body.
There is “abundant evidence” that this increased ratio of omega fats causes overstimulation of a main cannabinoid receptor, which “leads to metabolic syndrome, contributing to chronic diseases,” the study authors wrote.
People who are able to reduce their level of this specific cannabinoid receptor (CB1R) often experience weight loss. There are different ways to achieve this effect, but one possibility identified in earlier research is the introduction of cannabis into the equation. Marijuana causes a downregulation of CB1R, a receptor that “plays a major role in assimilation, storage and conservation of energy.”
In basic terms, this means that while consuming cannabis certainly heightens hunger among users in the short-term, it also helps people properly manage that food after it’s entered the body. Even four months after you stop using cannabis, that effect is still present. Therefore, the researchers concluded, the impact of cannabis use on the CB1R receptor “more than offsets the short-term increase in energy stores that follow” a case of the munchies.
Again, however, this is a theoretical explanation based on existing research about the endocannabinoid system, cannabis and metabolism. As the researchers emphasized in their conclusion, the study raises many questions, including:
“How many other conditions respond in opposite directions during acute and long-term exposures to Cannabis? How does this paradox impact therapeutic uses of Cannabis? Do the long-term effects of Cannabis use arising from downregulation of CB1R exacerbate the underlying condition that drove patients to therapeutic use of Cannabis in the first place? For example, if a patient uses Cannabis for anxiety, will the resulting downregulation of CB1R result in increased anxiety between therapeutic doses? How does dosage influence this relationship? Is CB2R also downregulated during Cannabis use, and if so, what are the implications for treatment of CB2R-related conditions with Cannabis?”
At the moment, those become the next exciting questions to answer.