Researchers Prep for Study on How Cannabis-Like Molecules May Influence Obesity

A new study from scientists at UC Riverside will examine the connection between the body’s endocannabinoid system and overeating.

Scientists from the University of California, Riverside have received a $1.7 million grant to study the cannabis-like molecules in the body that help control feeding behaviors. Researchers hope to find the specific components in the Western diet, comprised of high sugar and fat, that impact gut-brain signaling and diet-induced obesity.

Nicholas DiPatrizio, assistant professor of biomedical sciences, will lead the study.

“Our work, which will be done on a mouse model, will support the discovery and development of novel therapeutic strategies to safely treat obesity and related metabolic disorders,” DiPatrizio stated in a press release. “Currently, a critical barrier to effective treatment of obesity is a lack of reliable therapeutic options.”

Endocannabinoids are cannabis-like molecules that are naturally produced by the body to aid in the regulation of a wide variety of physiological processes. Through other studies on mice, DiPatrizio and his team have found that the endocannabinoid system (ECS) in the gut plays a critical role in the signaling pathway between the brain and gut, especially where feeling satiated, or full, is concerned.

By feeding mice a diet that causes them to become obese, the ECS becomes impaired.

“We think the endocannabinoid system gets remodeled after exposure to high-energy nutrients and contributes to overeating in diet-induced obesity,” DiPatrizio said. “Our preliminary results support this hypothesis.”

DiPatrizio’s hypothesis aligns with a research study on the ECS impact on obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The study’s researchers found evidence that an unbalanced energy intake triggered a response in the ECS, causing it to become overactive. This response may have contributed to fat accumulation and eventually may lead to obesity.

The upcoming study is funded through the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases of the National Institutes of Health. Last month, DiPatrizio received a 744,000 grant from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program to investigate the potential effects of long-term cannabis exposure on metabolic diseases, such as Type 2 diabetes.

Does cannabis impact body weight?

Cannabis Use and Obesity, Diabetes

Contrary to the stereotypical idea that cannabis leads to weight gain, a growing body of scientific research has revealed a link between cannabis use and lower obesity rates. A recent study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology suggests that cannabis users are less likely to gain weight than non-users.

A recent study published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine suggests that men who use cannabis have a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who do not use cannabis. Lower BMI, or a measure of body fat, is related to lower rates of cardiovascular risks.

In 2017, researchers from Oregon’s Health and Science University published a study that found regular cannabis use to be associated with a lower body fat percentage. In that study, results showed that those who consumed marijuana more than five times per month had on average a lower rate of body fat compared to those who did not use cannabis.

These previous findings could suggest that cannabis’ influence on the ECS may affect energy balance and could play a potential therapeutic role in the treatment of obesity-related conditions. Cannabis contains more than 100 cannabinoids that when absorbed interact with the ECS’s cannabinoid receptors.

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