If Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies has taught us anything about marijuana, it’s that certain strains give you a serious appetite. Practically every weed smoker has been there. One minute, you’re giggling at old cartoons such as Tom & Jerry, and the next you feel like diving into a gallon of Ben & Jerry’s. (Incidentally, I personally blame Harold and Kumar for trying White Castle, where my friends and I discovered precisely why they are called ‘sliders.’)
| “If ‘Harold and Kumar Get the Munchies’ has taught us anything about marijuana, it’s that certain strains give you a serious appetite.”
In any case, for uninformed members of the general public, weed + the munchies = a lot of fat stoners. Therefore, you would expect states with legal recreational marijuana to be among the most obese in the USA. As it happens, it appears that the opposite is true.
Colorado – The Slimmest, Most Physically Active State in the USA!
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in concert with Trust for America’s Health, has just released a report titled: The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America. According to the data, Colorado has the lowest rate of obesity in the United States. Yes, Colorado, the second state to legalize marijuana medicinally in 2012.
| “According to new data, Colorado has the lowest rate of obesity in the United States.”
We are closing in on six years of legality and, far from being a state filled with Eric Cartmans, Colorado actually appears to be a thriving, healthy state where teen marijuana use has actually fallen! The report included the District of Columbia, which had the second lowest rate of adult obesity at 23%. However, Colorado was #1 with 22.6% (the county of Eagle had the lowest level of obesity of any American community). Also, it’s worth pointing out that Colorado even has the lowest rate of high school obesity, at 9.5%.
Indeed, Colorado almost swept the board when a number of other health, exercise, and weight factors were analyzed. Here is a small sample of how the state fared among a few health-related categories:
COLORADO: THE HEALTHIEST STATE IN THE U.S.?
|Condition||National Percentile||U.S. Ranking|
Interestingly, Colorado also performed exceptionally well across all races in terms of obesity rates. The ‘poorest’ result for the state was the percentage of African-Americans who are obese, and yet they still achieved a top 10 ranking. Only 12.3% of high school students are classified as overweight in Colorado.[/comparing]
So Colorado Residents are Fit & Healthy: What Has This Got to Do with Marijuana?
Perhaps nothing, but there was good news for the majority of states where marijuana is legal for recreational use. We know that D.C and Colorado are #1 and #2, respectively, but here is how the other eight recreationally legal states compared in terms of adult obesity:
OBESITY RATES AMONG STATES WITH RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA
|State||Obesity Rate||U.S. Ranking|
If anything, Alaska is an outlier because eight of the ten states and territories where weed is recreationally legal are in the top 20 for low obesity rates; five in the top ten and three in the top four![/comparing]
| “Eight of the ten states where weed is recreationally legal are in the top 20 for low obesity rates…”
What may be more alarming, however, is that of the ten states with the highest obesity rates, five of them don’t even allow marijuana for medicinal use: West Virginia has the highest obesity rate in America, at a shocking 38.1%. Although cannabis is legal there for medicinal purposes, it is only permitted to patients with specific chronic conditions. Macon County in Alabama has the highest obesity rate of any county in the United States at an incredible 48% – over five times the rate of Eagle, Colorado.
Overall, the nation unquestionably has an obesity epidemic, as only three of the 51 states and territories reviewed had obesity rates below 25%. In contrast, 29 had rates of over 30%, but Alaska is the only one where marijuana is legal recreationally.
| “Macon County, Alabama (a region where cannabis use is almost non-existent) has the highest obesity rate of any county in the United States at an incredible 48%.”
Is There a Link Between Marijuana Use and Obesity?
If it was a case of one or two states with legal weed being included in the lowest obesity rates chart, we might brush these statistics off as a coincidence. However, almost every state where you can buy herb for personal use has a lower obesity rate than the national average.
This doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone who has been keeping tabs on marijuana research. While using weed does cause the receptors in our brain to trigger the release of hormones that make us feel hungry, there are studies which show that using pot could help you lose weight.
One study, for instance, published in the October 2011 edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology, analyzed obesity and cannabis use. According to the researchers, people who use weed are less likely to be obese than individuals who abstain. This was a detailed study that looked at over 50,000 people.
The research discovered that obesity prevalence was 6-8% lower in people who had used marijuana at least once in the previous 12 months than those who never used it. In fact, the prevalence of obesity became lower with more frequent use!
Researchers are still speculating on the reasons why marijuana could result in weight loss, but one theory is that THC has a significant effect on obese people. While cannabis is often used to stimulate appetite and help weight gain in cancer patients or people with cachexia, it seems to reduce the BMI of overweight individuals.
DID YOU KNOW: Almost every state where you can buy herb for personal use has a lower obesity rate than the national average?
Another study published in the December 2015 issue of PLOS One, examined obese mice and mice at a ‘normal’ weight. Both groups were given THC daily. Interestingly, the ‘normal’ weight mice were unaffected, but the obese mice lost weight. The research team believes that THC caused changes in the gut microbiome in order to regulate digestion and weight loss.
And this was far from an isolated study; Research in the UK, Poland, Canada, Hungary, and Italy has yielded similar results.
Final Thoughts on Marijuana & Obesity
These findings certainly give some credence to the notion that marijuana has a profound effect on the endocannabinoid system (ECS). According to the theory, if your system is in balance (homeostasis), weed probably won’t have a significant medical effect. However, if your system is off-balance, the cannabinoids in cannabis may help you fight an array of symptoms. This could be one reason why weed helps cancer patients gain weight, enables obese people to lose weight, and has little effect on the weight of those at a ‘normal’ body mass.
The State of Obesity report did not mention marijuana in its findings, but it did make a few common-sense recommendations:
- Maintain nutrition standards for school meals.
- Eliminate children’s exposure to the marketing and advertising of unhealthy products.
- Ensure that students all receive a minimum of 60 minutes’ worth of physical education during every school day.
- Allow eligible Medicare beneficiaries to enroll in obesity counseling and evaluate its effectiveness.
Rather than continuing to fight a futile battle against marijuana, perhaps the country’s politicians should be more concerned about fast food companies and sugar-laden beverages being sold to children. At present, marijuana, which grows naturally, is federally illegal. Meanwhile, we can go to any supermarket or grocery store and fill our carts with snacks and beverages that fuel the obesity epidemic.
All in all, it looks like the country as a whole ought to be taking a page (or two) out of Colorado’s book.
| “Rather than fighting a futile battle against marijuana, maybe U.S. politicians should be more concerned about fighting fast food companies and sugar-laden beverages being sold to children…”