Among the most well-known effects of marijuana is the irresistible hunger that kicks in for many people after using, referred to as “the munchies.” No bag of chips, package of Oreos, or anything else sweet, salty or fatty is safe when the munchies start. So you might think all of that munching would result in users gaining more weight, but a new study suggests that’s not the case – in fact, just the opposite may be true.

Researchers analyzed Body Mass Index (BMI) data for 33,000 participants from the National Epidemiologic Survey of Alcohol and Related Conditions, comparing BMI of marijuana users and non-users 18 and older over a three-year period.

They found a small average weight variance between users and non-users (around two pounds), but that modest difference held true across nearly the entire study group.

“An average two-pound difference doesn’t seem like much, but we found it in more than 30,000 people with all different kinds of behaviors and still got this result,” said lead study author Omayma Alshaarawy, assistant professor of family medicine at Michigan State University.

The study also found that marijuana users seemed to gain less weight over time than non-users.

“Over a three-year period, all participants showed a weight increase, but interestingly, those who used marijuana had less of an increase compared to those that never used,” said Alshaarawy. “Our study builds on mounting evidence that this opposite effect occurs.”

Other studies have found a similar correlation between marijuana use and lower rates of weight gain and obesity, but the likely cause is still in question. It may be that certain cannabinoid compounds in marijuana alter metabolism in the opposite way popularly assumed, or it could be that users adapt behavior to counter-balance the extra calories.

“It could be more behavioral, like someone becoming more conscious of their food intake as they worry about the munchies after cannabis use,” said Alshaarawy. “Or it could be the cannabis use itself, which can modify how certain cells, or receptors, respond in the body and can ultimately affect weight gain.”

Whichever is true (and it could very well be a combination of metabolic and behavioral changes), the researchers stressed that marijuana use should not be considered a diet booster.

“People shouldn’t consider it as a way to maintain or even lose weight,” added Alshaarawy. “There’s too many health concerns around cannabis that far outweigh the potential positive, yet modest, effects it has on weight gain.”

Along with that caveat, we should also add that this was an observational study looking for correlations, not causation. This research does not prove that using marijuana assists in weight loss – only that across a three-year period the researchers observed a steady correlation. More research will have to fill in the gaps to understand why this correlation exists.

In case you’re wondering why marijuana triggers the munchies – the latest research suggests that THC, the psychoactive compound in marijuana, sets off a cascade of brain activity in neural networks underlying our sense of smell and taste. When that activity reaches a certain threshold, the brain responds as if we’re starving, and the hunt for snacks is on.  That’s a finding based only on experiments with mice, however, so the precise munchies mechanism in humans is still not entirely clear.

The study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

Source:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/daviddisalvo/2019/04/21/marijuana-users-gain-less-weight-than-non-users-despite-the-munchies-study-suggests/#526d9576687f