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Most people "get the munchies" when they smoke pot.

The THC (tetrahydrocannanbinol) in marijuana "hijacks" neurons in the brain that ordinarily regulate appetite. It's a little like aiming for the brakes and hitting the accelerator instead. You feel hungry, even though you aren't hungry, and you can't stop eating doughnuts and Cheetos and burgers and breakfast sandwiches.

As a case in point, I once happened on a famous Texas-based country singer whose first name is Willie and who is well known for advocating legalization of marijuana use when I was eating a breakfast sandwich at an Austin, Texas Whataburger at 5 o'clock in the morning. I was about to go to work. He had just finished his last set of the night. Even though I am a "well nourished" man with a physique like an American football linebacker, I had one sausage and egg biscuit. Even though he is man of thin build and small frame, he had twelve. He seemed very happy. I was grouchy. I had to get to work.

Why is it that using marijuana increases appetite but people who smoke pot frequently are usually thin? An honest answer is, "It's complicated."
  • Smoking one marijuana cigarette usually has little or no effect on eating, short-term or long-term.
  • Smoking two or three marijuana cigarettes usually increases eating temporarily. However, this effect is due to the lack of inhibition about the size of snacks. People who smoke two or three joints eat larger snacks, but not larger meals.
  • Smoking marijuana on a regular basis results in consuming more calories, on average about 600 calories more every day, but without gaining more weight.

Some scientists look at the results of studies of long-term marijuana use and basically say, "Oh yeah? Then they have to be using crystal meth, too." However, there is no evidence that marijuana is usually a gateway drug to other hard drugs that cause weight loss.

A better explanation of why marijuana stimulates appetite but not weight gain in people who use it for a long time is that certain chemicals in marijuana deaden appetite control centers in the brain but also deaden nerves that stimulate appetite in the stomach and intestines.

This means that when the problem is something like anorexia, in which the brain is sending out signals that say "Don't eat! Don't eat!" marijuana stops abnormally poor appetite. However, marijuana also cancels out the "Feed me! Feed me now!" signals that the stomachs and guts of obese people send to the brain.

Using marijuana long-term can also regulate the immune system, making it more "mellow," so it does not attack cells in the lining of the digestive tract, as it does in inflammatory bowel disease and Crohn's disease. This healing of the digestive tract allows weight to rise, but people who have inflammatory bowel disease or Chrohn's disease are usually thin to begin with.

It really doesn't make sense to start using pot to try to lose weight.

It really just keeps you from gaining excessive weight. It won't help you lose weight --usually -- if you are already overweight. However, if you happen to have cancer, HIV, or inflammatory bowel disease, then it may make sense to explore the possibility of medical marijuana or a medication called Drabinol to make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need.

If there is an emotional component to excessive weight gain, a binge eating disorder or an obsession with food or a compulsion to eat, marijuana may interrupt the habits that drive the disease. Maybe the weight falls off naturally. Maybe marijuana reduces "impulsivity" so that users, paradoxically, can take control over their impulse eating. However, there hasn't been enough research to know exactly what marijuana is doing in these cases from scientific evidence, and we cannot advocate the use of any treatments prohibited by local law.

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