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Studies Show Medical Cannabis Could Stimulate Weight Loss

Written by Julie Godard

Cannabis is widely known to have stimulating effects on the parts of the brain that control the desire to eat

The common sensation known as “the munchies” often assails people who have recently consumed cannabis. Another common trait of cannabis is its tendency to affect different people in different ways, and as far as appetite stimulation is concerned this has been very accurate.

Cannabis is often recommended for weight gain in patients suffering from diseases such as HIV/AIDS or cancer, in which other medications or treatments may decrease appetite to a dangerous level. Several recent studies have shown that regular cannabis consumption may lead to a lower overall body mass index. These results indicate that cannabis could help people with weight issues stimulate weight loss through the regular consumption of cannabis in some form.

Cannabis & Increased Appetite

In a 2014 study published in Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, researchers Randy and Lori Sansone set out to determine how and at what level cannabis stimulates appetite in patients with HIV/AIDS or cancer. Their findings indicated that while cannabis did stimulate appetite in these patients, it was at median levels, and the drug megestrol outperformed cannabis in this area. The study also found that acute cannabis consumption stimulates appetite, particularly in low-weight individuals. The stimulation of appetite in cannabis consumers, patients included, happens through the cannabinoid receptors in the brain.

As Vemuri, Janero, and Makriyannis found in a 2008 study, targeting CB receptors in the human brain may be a new pathway toward reducing obesity in the world population. CB1 and CB2 receptors are part of the endocannabinoid system in the brain and the human immune system of humans and most animals. CB1 receptors are mainly located in the brain, but some are found in the stomach and intestinal tissue as well. The stimulation of CB1 and CB2 receptors results in the desire to eat in human beings and other mammals, as noted by medical researchers Cota, Marsicano, Lutz, Vicennati, Stalla, Pasquali, and Pagotto. Kirkham found that CB receptor stimulation increases not only appetite, but also enjoyment of food, while turning consumed food into fat and adipose tissue.

Since researchers now know what “turns on” the desire to eat during cannabis consumption, it makes sense that they might be able to moderate what “turns off” feeding behavior, thereby creating a process of weight loss reduction through the human consumption of cannabis.

Cannabis & Decreased Appetite

While the Sansones were researching appetite stimulation in the 2014 study, they realized that in many large studies, cannabis consumers “tend to have lower body mass than nonusers.” Instead of stimulating the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and body to increase food cravings and feeding behavior, researchers are looking into the possibility of “antagonizing” the receptors to reduce feeding behavior and increase weight loss.

According to the Sansones, researchers have accomplished this in rats by pharmacologically blocking the CB receptors, which reduces food intake and weight gain. (CB receptor antagonists block the receptors and can determine whether cannabinoid receptors are involved in a certain behavior – in this case, eating.)

Specifically, Riedel and colleagues found that administering high levels of CB1 antagonist AM251 resulted in rats refusing to eat for 6-8 hours for four consecutive days. Hypophagia (reduced feeding behavior) and weight reduction were also demonstrated at much lower doses. Once the dosing regimen was stopped, appetites immediately returned to normal with no visible side effects. (This is a key part of the findings because other drugs used to regulate obesity in patients, such as rimonabant (also known as Acomplia or SR141716A), may have serious side effects like anxiety and depression.)

The endocannabinoid system, of which the CB receptors are a part, responds to the antagonist AM251 by suppressing leptin release. Leptin is a hormone that stimulates peptide release in the hypothalamus region of the brain to decrease appetite. Leptin has been shown to decrease 2-arachidonoyl glycerol (2-AG) and anandamide in obese mice – two endocannabinoids present in the body. Since CB1 receptors regulate appetite and food cravings, blocking or antagonizing them resulted in the following characteristics in mice:

How Cannabis May Decrease Body Mass Index

During their 2014 study, the Sansones realized that medical cannabis consumption might be an indicator of low body mass index, a quality that physicians and healthcare professionals prize as an indication of overall body health in human beings. Although there are other obesity drugs on the market for weight loss in obese patients such as rimonabant and taranabant, the Sansones found that “adverse and severe psychiatric symptoms” like suicidal thoughts and desires were possible side effects.

Medical cannabis could promote weight loss without these side effects. Cannabis should only be used with the advice and oversight of a physician or other healthcare professional, however, as it can have side effects such as euphoria, somnolence, sedation, fatigue, and hallucinations. In a 2006 study, Rodondi, et. al found that of 3,617 extensive cannabis consumers aged 18 to 30 years all had higher daily caloric intake but no increase in body mass index over occasional or past cannabis consumers.

Additionally, Le Strat and Le Foil researched the results of two large medical studies and found that participants who consumed cannabis at least three times per week had less tendency to be obese than non-consumers. Overall, the results of the Sansones’ study is promising, as are the results of other studies on this topic. As the inner workings of the human body and mind in relation to medical cannabis are further explored, natural weight loss supplements with medical cannabis ingredients or extracts may help patients increase their health in the future.

[Image credit- Pixabay]

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About the author

Julie Godard