Myth busters: Does Marijuana Increase Your Metabolism?

Marijuana users are far less likely to have metabolic syndrome than their more abstemious peers, according to research published in The American Journal of Medicine.

If you know what we mean, you’ll also know it happens almost immediately. When we say ‘it’ we mean the very real and very demanding force every smoker has come to know as the munchies. A few puffs in and your stomach gives you that grumbling signal that it’s ready for some grub. But what exactly is it about marijuana that makes you hungry? Is it a mental thing, or is it actually physical?

Metabolic syndrome, according to the Mayo Clinic, is a group of different conditions including increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels — that cluster together in one patient.

Those suffering from metabolic syndrome increase their risk of heart disease, strokes and diabetes. Drawing on the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data from 2005 to 2010 using 8,500 20- to 59-year-olds, the study found that pot users were 50 percent less likely to have metabolic syndrome than non-pot users.

Marijuana users also showed mean fasting glucose levels — the way we determine how much sugar is in the blood — significantly lower than the levels when compared to people who never smoked, while waist circumference was significantly lower among men who currently smoked when compared to those that never did.

“Among emerging adults, current marijuana users were 54 percent less likely than never users to present with metabolic syndrome,” the researchers said. “These findings have important implications for the nation as marijuana use becomes more accepted and we simultaneously face multiple epidemics of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.”

The study, published Mar 11, 2018 in the journal Psychological Medicine, included data from over 1,800 adults who participated in the second Australian national survey on psychosis.

“Participants who reported using cannabis in the previous 12 months were significantly less likely than non-users to have the metabolic syndrome,” wrote the study’s authors.

“This association remained significant for frequent users (using at least once per week in the previous 12 months) after adjustment for a range of potential confounders, including lifestyle, cognitive function, antipsychotic use, diagnosis and sociodemographic characteristics.”

“Of interest is the evidence emerging from general population studies showing the positive impact that cannabis may have on cardiometabolic risk factors of users compared with non-users: lower levels of fasting glucose and insulin, lower prevalence of diabetes, smaller waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) and higher levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs).”

Interestingly, the protective effect seemed to be greater in more frequent users, compared to those who only used marijuana occasionally.

“It is known that THC is stored in fat cells and can be slowly released over days and weeks, which may explain why cannabis can maintain its therapeutic effect days or weeks after last being used,” the authors added.

Still, more research on marijuana and the endocannabinoid system is required in order to identify the potential role that cannabis may play in preventing metabolic syndrome.

“The complex endocannabinoid system remains to be fully understood, as does the role played by individual cannabinoids and how they exert their effects on different metabolic pathways,” concluded the authors.

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