By Andy Green
The use of cannabis to treat a wide variety of medical ailments is gaining a lot of media attention at the moment. Traditionally, cannabis has been used to treat pain and mood related conditions. Alongside many of the tried and true (and not so true) fad diet trends of today, a recent discovery is a link between the medicinal use of cannabis and weight loss.
How Does It Work?
The process we’re tapping into when we talk about this link is the body’s production and regulation of insulin. Insulin’s function is to maintain blood sugar levels – ensuring they are not too high or too low.
In our regular bodily process, the hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas specifically to take the glucose in the carbohydrates in our food and turn it into energy that we can use. Regular healthy levels of this hormone are important for both the production of energy but also for the storage of glucose when the energy isn’t required and the regulation of your blood sugar levels.
If you ingest an abundance of foods rich in glucose, your body produces sufficient insulin to stop your blood sugar levels from getting too high and the result is often storage of unwanted fat. Your body is also likely to put on weight if your system is unable to manage and regulate insulin properly.
Cannabis And Insulin Levels
A study conducted in the US on a sample of regular male and female cannabis users has found that insulin levels in the body prior to meals were 16 percent lower than those who were not cannabis users. Why does this matter?
Low blood glucose levels, in combination with Leptin (the energy regulating, ‘hunger hormone’) and triglycerides (the main constituents of body fat) have a huge bearing on overall health and quality and length of life.
Cannabis consumers within the study were also found to have 17 percent lower insulin resistance levels and on average smaller waists. It’s no mystery that larger waist circumference has been strongly linked to increased risk of diabetes.
What Makes It Happen?
One thing most commonly known about weight loss is the impact of endorphins. Endorphins are hormones from the brain that make us feel happy and energetic. While these hormones are a great source of motivation and we are always looking towards endorphins to motivate us to get moving and lose weight, we can also look to the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system is activated when we exercise. The cannabinoids released in this process are what make you feel high and happy when you’re running around.
The endocannabinoid system is also the system responsible for pain relief, mood changes, memory and, importantly, control of appetite.
The body stores the natural occurrence of the primary psychoactive ingredient from cannabis, (THC) in fat, and as the body begins to burn fat during exercise, small amounts of the compound are released into the bloodstream. This produces similar effects to those experienced if you were to consume a small amount of cannabis.
The best part about this reaction is that studies show the higher your BMI, the more fat is available for storing THC, and in turn, the greater increase of THC circulating in the body.
The problem is, studies show naturally produced THC blood levels increase by about 15 percent immediately after exercise, but dissipate around two hours after a workout.
In comparison, when cannabis is inhaled, THC binds to cannabinoid receptor 1 (CB1), a G protein-coupled cannabinoid receptor located primarily in the central and peripheral nervous system. There is a suggestion that a lower BMI seen in regular cannabis-smokers, could be due to the result – a breaking down of brain endocannabinoid signaling.
Although highly concentrated quantities of natural THC is responsible for stimulating your appetite, which encourages you to eat, constant and repeated stimulation of the CB1 receptors by the THC compound decreases the receptor sensitivity and will eventually dampen your hunger signals.
Another component of marijuana, tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) may be responsible for reducing body weight due to its ability to antagonize CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain. This function basically blocks the rewarding sensation experienced when eating and for this reason, THCV is commonly used as an appetite suppressant.
In animal studies, THCV has also shown to increase the metabolism of fat cells.
Unfortunately, in Australia, cannabis is still considered an illicit drug and can only be obtained legally as a medical treatment from a licensed practitioner. Although recently, the use of medical marijuana has been legalized. In addition, very few strains of cannabis have significant enough levels of THCV to truly provide a significant weight loss results. Research is ongoing and continues into methods of extracting and utilizing these compounds into usable, effective and safe elements for treating weight gain.