Marijuana And Weight Gain: Several Factors Increase Health Risk From Cannabis

First Posted: Jun 30, 2015 11:38 AM EDT

It's no surprise that marijuana use can influence weight gain or give you "the munchies," slang for excessive hunger when smoking marijuana. Yet did you know that several factors can ultimately influence the effect, including gender, level of use and concomitant cigarette smoking?

New findings published in the journal Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior examined how temporary cannabis use can result in an increased appetite and how long-term marijuana smoking can also increase the risk of weight gain in certain users, with particular differences--including exacerbated health risks--among genders. 

"It is known -- and often reported by users -- that cannabis causes temporary increase in appetite. As to whether it actually causes weight gain in the long term, the available data is limited. The question is all the more difficult to answer since many other factors can influence weight. For instance, cannabis use may be associated with cigarette smoking, which also alters appetite, and many effects of cannabis vary by gender and level of use," noted Didier Jutras-Aswad, University of Montreal professor and researcher at the CHUM Research Centre, in a news release.

For the study, researchers examined data from the Nicotine Dependence in Teens (NDIT), which encompassed 1,294 individuals from the age of 12 or 13 who agreed to share information each year regarding their mental and physical health, diet, weight and height, physical activity and frequency and levels of cannabis, alcohol and/or nicotine intake; this information allowed researchers to rule out other factors that could potentially influence weight gain in their analysis.

Though the study results leave researchers unable to completely explain gender differences and weight gain regarding marijuana use, future studies may help explain some hypotheses.

"THC and nicotine do not affect the neurobiological circuits controlling hunger in the same way in men and women," explained Jutras-Aswad. "We also know that these targets in the brain are modified by hormonal factors that can fluctuate, in particular, during menstrual cycles. There are also possible psychological differences in men and women in their perception of and preoccupation with weight gain and diet, which could hypothetically explain why men seem specifically sensitive to the complex interaction between cannabis use, cigarette smoking, and weight gain."

Lastly, researchers point out the dangers of cigarette smoking and cannabis use, along with an increased risk of obesity by pointing towards education and awareness. 

"One of the great strengths of our study is that it is highly instructive about how to study the effects of cannabis use on weight gain, but also the risk of developing other health problems," Jutras-Aswad concluded.

For long-term marijuana users, withdrawal has been linked to grouchiness, sleeplessness, decreased appetite and excessive anxiety, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. As tobacco is oftentimes involved with marijuana use, this is where other health risks can come into play, including breathing problems and potential respiratory issues. Some studies have also suggested that smoking marijuana can increase the risk for head and neck squamous cell cancers, lung cancer, prostate cancers and cervical cancers due to respiratory tract effects. However, other studies have shown that marijuana may help in treating autoimmune diseases and lowering inflammation levels.

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