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New Study Finds Link Between Marijuana Use and Lower Body Fat

A new study has found daily marijuana use to be associated with a lower body fat percentage.

Regular cannabis consumption may contribute to lower body fat, according to a new study published in the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics. Examining the correlation between marijuana use and body mass index, researchers from the University of Miami found daily marijuana use was associated with a significantly lower body mass index (BMI).

BMI is a measure of body fat based on the ratio of an individual’s height to weight. Using a sample of over 13,000 people and data from the National Longitude Survey of Adolescent Health, researchers Isabelle C. Beulaygue and Michael French found that that females who used marijuana on a daily basis were found to have a BMI approximately 3.1 percent lower than that of non-users. Males that use marijuana everyday were found to have a BMI approximately 2.7 percent lower than that of non-users.

More than two-thirds of American adults are considered overweight or obese, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Overweight and obesity increases the risk of serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and some types of cancer. The annual health care costs of obesity-related illnesses and conditions in the United States are estimated to be $190.2 billion (21 percent of the annual medical spending in the U.S.).

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Earlier research has shown a similar link between cannabis and a lower body fat percentage and smaller waist circumferences. Multiple surveys have shown the prevalence of obesity to be lower in regular cannabis users. A 2013 study published in The American Journal of Medicine found that not only was regular marijuana use associated with lower rates of obesity, but with lower levels of fasting insulin and insulin resistance, suggesting that marijuana improves insulin control and thus contributes to the regulation of a healthy body weight.

The study’s findings may surprise some, as marijuana has also been found effective at boosting appetite in people with cachexia (wasting syndrome) and eating disorders.

“There is a popular belief that people who consume marijuana have the munchies, and so [they] are going to eat a lot and gain weight, and we found that it is not necessarily the case,” Beulaygue told Live Science.

Research indicates that both obesity and eating disorders like anorexia could be related to dysfunction of the body’s endocannabinoid system. Cannabinoids found in cannabis interact with the cannabinoid receptors, which in turn regulate the system and encourage homeostasis. In other words, with its cannabinoid’s interactions with the endocannabinoid system, marijuana may play a therapeutic role in both overweight and underweight individuals.

The link between marijuana use and a lower BMI held even with the researchers controlling for lifestyle factors that could affect a person’s body fat, including their diet, exercise frequency and alcohol consumption.

You can read the abstract to the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics study here. Keep up with the latest studies into cannabis’ therapeutic benefits through our news feed and learn more about the research already completed by visiting our Cannabis, Hemp and Marijuana Education page.