Why are cannabis consumers skinny? Of course, not every connoisseur is slim. Cannabis stimulates appetite, so we tend to consume more calories than the average person.
But in general, cannabis connoisseurs are thinner than, say, recreational alcohol drinkers sporting a beer gut.
Researchers at the University of California, Irvine, think they’ve discovered why. But, they warn, this “pseudo-health” benefit comes at a price.
Is this true? Or is reefer madness sneaking its way into a scientific research paper?
What’s the skinny on perpetually thin cannabis consumers?
Details of the Study
The “why cannabis consumers are skinny” study is titled, “Adolescent exposure to low-dose THC disrupts energy balance and adipose organ homeostasis in adulthood.”
The researchers gave adolescent mice low doses of THC and compared them to the control group. They found the THC mice were leaner, but they described this state as “pseudo-lean.”
They claim the mice treated with THC suffer from “Molecular and functional adipose abnormalities.”
Adipose tissue is fat tissue. It’s responsible for storing energy in the form of fat. It plays a significant role in regulating metabolism and hormone production.
“Molecular abnormalities” imply deviations from normal genetic processes within the fat tissue. “Functional abnormalities” refers to physiological change, including how fat tissue stores and releases energy or changes in hormone secretion.
Now, this doesn’t sound good. Fat tissue dysfunction is associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. But that’s not what the researchers found when giving adolescent mice low THC doses.
As per the study,
We found that daily low-dose administration of cannabis’ intoxicating constituent, Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), to adolescent male mice causes an adult metabolic phenotype characterized by reduced fat mass, increased lean mass and utilization of fat as fuel.
Where’s the bad news?
Why Cannabis Consumers Are Skinny
Let’s break down further why cannabis consumers are skinny. What exactly did the researchers find in THC-treated mice? Is this “pseudo-lean” state just reefer madness masquerading as science?
The researchers found THC-treated mice had less body fat and more muscle mass and changed how their bodies burned fat for energy. But they also found the mice exhibited partial resistance to obesity or abnormal blood lipid levels.
This suggests THC “exposure” during adolescence actually has a protective effect against these conditions.
The THC-treated mice also produced more heat (enhanced thermogenesis), likely associated with their increased lean mass. Additionally, researchers found THC-treated mice had increased production of proteins typically associated with muscle tissue.
THC-treated mice did have impaired lipolysis, which is the breakdown of fat stored in adipose (fat) tissue. This was significant in exposure to cold and with stimulating β-adrenergic receptors.
Overall, answering why cannabis consumers are skinny requires more than one study on mice. The terms used in the study, “overexpression” and “dysfunction,” also imply a bias.
Why not use the term “increased production” instead of “overexpression.” And how can they use the word “dysfunction” if the study did not establish causality between the observed metabolic phenotype and the changes in the adipose (fat) tissue?
The term “pseudo-lean” is a value statement. If the researchers were testing a weight-loss drug, they likely concluded that it works, albeit with side effects.
So why the reefer madness?
THC as a Weight-Loss Drug
If you’re obese, then smoking cannabis isn’t going to make you skinny. If anything, the munchies may contribute to your condition.
These researchers found that low-THC exposure in adolescent mice reduces fat mass and increases lean mass. These are considered “functional abnormalities in the adipose tissue.”
And thus, this “pseudo-lean” state may not be healthy or optimal. It may be rooted in dysfunction within the adipose tissue. But what’s true for mice isn’t always true for humans.
The researchers use the term “pseudo-state” because they don’t know the long-term implications for metabolic health.
Fortunately, people have been consuming cannabis for thousands of years. And this study used low doses of THC, so critics can’t come back with “today’s potent weed is different from previous generations!”
If there were long-term metabolic health problems from skinny cannabis consumers, then we likely would have noticed it by now.
We didn’t need a study to confirm that long-term alcohol users end up with fatty liver disease. The ancient Greeks thought the condition came from excess phlegm and an imbalance of “humors.” It wasn’t until 1836 that researchers figured out what was happening.
This brings up an important bias in this “Why Cannabis Consumers are Skinny” study.
Why Cannabis Consumers Are Skinny
Putting aside the fact that what’s true for mice isn’t necessarily true for humans (and this study didn’t prove any causality), the results are still fascinating.
For example, THC-treated mice had lower fasting plasma insulin, leptin, triglycerides, cholesterol, and serum glucose levels than the control group.
Lower fasting plasma insulin levels suggest that the THC-mice had improved insulin sensitivity. Which means they need less insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels.
Leptin (a hormone secreted by fat cells) plays a role in regulating appetite and energy balance. The study suggests that low doses of THC in your teen years alter leptin. Likewise, lower levels of triglycerides indicate reduced fat accumulation or altered lipid metabolism.
Researchers associate elevated cholesterol levels with cardiovascular risk. The THC-treated mice had lower cholesterol levels, positively impacting lipid metabolism and cardiovascular health.
The glucose (sugar) concentration in the bloodstream indicates lower blood sugar levels. However, the researchers found no difference in how the body processes glucose between the THC mice and the control group.
Does This Study Answer Why Cannabis Consumers Are Skinny?
So does this study answer why cannabis consumers are skinny? Not quite. It sheds some light on the processes, but only through the study of mice.
The scientific conclusions and media headlines may have differed if this had been a weight-loss drug trial. But, as this is cannabis, all benefits are considered “pseudo,” so the researchers caution about long-term unknowns.
And indeed, an obese teenager should clean up their diet and begin exercising before smoking weed for weight loss.
That said, the “pseudo” status attached to cannabis’ tendency to produce skinny consumers is unjustified. For this study, at least.