What Marijuana Does to Your Metabolism

The effects of marijuana use are wide-ranging. Some strains make you feel sleepy and relaxed, others make you feel energetic and creative; but one of the most universal effects of getting stoned is acute, unremitting hunger. It is a phenomenon known as "the munchies," and though it is commonly associated with late night, high-calorie diets, recent studies suggest that the relationship between cannabis use and the human metabolic system is more complex than it might seems.

In fact, the rate of obesity and diabetes among weed smokers is dramatically reduced compared to non-marijuana users, researchers found. Also, frequent marijuana users are generally slimmer than non-users, with waistlines that are 1.5 inches smaller, on average, than their former or non-using counterparts.

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After surveying 786 adults in an Inuit community—where more than half of the indigenous population reported frequent cannabis use—researchers at Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, determined that smoking pot statistically correlated with lower body mass index (BMI), lower fat percentages, and lower fasting insulin levels.

Published in the journal Obesity earlier this year, the study's findings support what several other research institutions have found regarding the effects of marijuana on metabolism. In 2013, the American Journal of Science released a report that also noted the low prevalence of obesity in cannabis users despite an abundance of empirical and anecdotal evidence linking stoners to high caloric diets.

"The most important finding is that current users of marijuana appeared to have better carbohydrate metabolism than nonusers," Murray Mittleman, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the lead author of the study, told Time. "Their fasting insulin levels were lower, and they appeared to be less resistant to the insulin produced by their body to maintain a normal blood-sugar level."

In that study, researchers analyzed data reported by more than 4,600 people participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey—48 percent of whom had used cannabis at least once and 12 percent reported they were active users at the time of the survey—and what they discovered seemed to defy explanation. Current marijuana users had 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels than former and non-users; they also showed, on average, 17 percent reduction in insulin resistance.

Remarkably, population-based data from these reports also indicate that regular marijuana users are about 30 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes. So even though smoking pot might give you the munchies, rending you defenseless against a bag of Doritos (as the cliche would have it, at least), rates of obesity and diabetes are reduced nonetheless among stoners.

"Cannabis smoking may also result in similarly increased energy expenditure as with cigarette smoking," Michel Lucas, an epidemiologist at Université Laval, told ATTN:. "In fact, cannabis smoking directly increases heart rate and blood pressure for several hours, as with tobacco."

"[It would] be very interesting to see if the cannabis effect is the same when you eat or smoke it," he added.

Featured Image:AP Photo/Mark Thiessen