Article by Dr. Natasha Ryz, Lift News
It is well known that cannabis and its major active compound THC can increase appetite and cause “the munchies.”
But did you know that cannabis use might also contribute to a healthy body weight?
The role of cannabis and endocannabinoids in appetite regulation and body weight has been extensively studied for the past 15 years. Clinical research shows that cannabis, as well as THC and its analogues, can stimulate appetite and may improve body weight in patients with HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C, Alzheimer’s disease, anorexia nervosa, inflammatory bowel disease, and cancer.
Indeed, this is an important therapeutic benefit of THC — its ability to stimulate appetite and improve body weight in patients suffering from disease
Does long-term cannabis use increase the risk of obesity?
Contrary to what one might expect, researchers find the prevalence of obesity may be lower in cannabis users compared to non-users.
Studies suggest a lower prevalence of diabetes mellitus and metabolic syndrome in cannabis users compared with people who have never used cannabis. However, other studies have found no relationship between cannabis use and type 2 diabetes .
In a nationally representative survey of 4657 American adults, current use of cannabis was associated with 16% lower levels of fasting insulin, lower insulin resistance, and smaller waist circumference.
Despite its associations with increased appetite and caloric intake, cannabis use is associated with lower body mass index and lower insulin levels.
How can this be?
The endocannabinoid system
Our endocannabinoid system is an ancient system found throughout our body and is how we recognize and interact with the cannabis plant. It helps to regulate a wide variety of functions, including appetite, body weight, sleep, pain, inflammation, psychiatric diseases, stress, and emotional state.
It is also well established that the endocannabinoid system is involved in both the regulation of energy balance and the development of obesity.
Our endocannabinoid system includes the CB1 and CB2 cannabinoid receptors, which are found throughout the body, including the brain, nerves, muscles, immune cells, intestines and skin.
CB1 receptors are highly expressed in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that plays a major role in controlling appetite and food intake.
Our endocannabinoid system also includes anandamide, which takes its name from the Sanskrit word ananda, meaning “bliss” or “delight.” Anandamide is made from fatty acids in our body and has a similar effect to THC.
Both THC and anandamide are partial agonists of the CB1 receptor, meaning they can bind to CB1 receptors in the brain and activate them, which in turn can stimulate appetite.
Interestingly, blocking or suppressing CB1 receptors has the opposite effect, and can suppress appetite and lead to weight loss.
This finding led to the development of CB1 blockers as anti-obesity drugs.
Rimonabant – a cautionary weight loss tale
Rimonabant, also known as Acomplia, was a drug developed by Sanofi-Aventis as a CB1 receptor antagonist. It works by blocking CB1 receptors. In 2006, Rimonabant was approved in more than 30 countries for weight loss and appetite suppression, but was withdrawn several years later because it also induced severe symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Other anti-obesity drugs aimed at inhibiting or blocking the CB1 receptor, including Taranabant by Merck & Co, have been discontinued.
Can cannabinoids inhibit the CB1 receptor?
Tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is also found in cannabis and is structurally similar to THC, but has different effects on the body.
THCV is a high-affinity CB1 receptor antagonist and can inhibit the CB1 receptor. However, unlike Rimonabant, THCV does not fully block the CB1 receptor, and it’s also a partial agonist for the CB2 receptor. Because of this, THCV is not thought to cause the same harmful side effects as Rimonabant and Taranabant.
THCV has been shown to suppress appetite and weight gain in mice and is being investigated as a novel anti-obesity treatment.
In a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study, patients with non insulin-treated type 2 diabetes who consumed THCV (five milligrams, twice daily for 13 weeks) had significantly decreased fasting plasma glucose and improved pancreatic β-cell function. However at this dose, THCV treatment had no effect on appetite or body weight after 13 weeks.