A number of studies show that cannabis consumers have significantly lower BMI, less obesity, and better metabolic health than those who don’t consume – and that’s despite them eating more calories.
It’s also been found that endocannabinoids (naturally produced cannabinoids) are much higher in obese people than non-obese people. In fact, it’s well established that obesity is associated with overactivation of the endocannabinoid system.
Why could this be?
Well, one theory that looks likely is that the downregulation of CB1 receptors following cannabis use counteracts the obesity-causing effects of high dietary omega-6 consumption.
Let me explain…
Omega 6 and obesity
It has been found that an increased ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids contributes to increased levels of endocannabinoids. This, in turn, overstimulates CB1 receptors, leading to increased caloric intake, reduced metabolic rates and weight gain.
This is why an increase in omega-6 to omega-3 ratios is associated with an increased risk of obesity.
Seed oils – like canola (rapeseed), sunflower and soybean oil – are high in omega-6 fatty acids. Consumption of these oils, which are most common in modern processed food, has skyrocketed in most populations since the 70s.
So, why would cannabis consumers have lower BMI and better metabolic health?
Because cannabis use downregulates endocannabinoid receptors, thus lowering endocannabinoid levels and reducing the likelihood of obesity (and insulin resistance).
Therefore, we can assume (as the authors of this study do) that cannabis improves metabolic health by counteracting the negative effects of omega-6-rich seed oils.
Omega 6:3 ratios
Omega 3 fatty acids are known to be anti-inflammatory. In fact, a very recent study found that omega-3 improves depressive symptoms by lowering inflammation in the brain.
There is also evidence that a high omega-6 fatty acid diet inhibits the anti-inflammatory and inflammation-resolving effect of omega-3 fatty acids.
Interestingly, the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio in hemp seed oil is normally between 2:1 and 3:1, which is considered to be optimal for human health.
Omega 3s are also common in seafood, chia seeds and walnuts, as well as being present in human breast milk – indicating they are essential for human development.
This is backed by this study, which found that breast milk with a high omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid ratio induced cellular events similar to insulin resistance and obesity.
A word about insulin resistance
In case you weren’t aware, insulin resistance is associated with nearly every chronic disease you can name, whether it’s heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s, gout, arthritis, etc.
While the exact mechanics of insulin resistance aren’t 100% clear, it’s highly correlated to obesity, and in particular, visceral fat – which is body fat located inside the abdomen.
You get excess visceral fat in a few ways – most notably by overconsuming sugar, refined carbs, and seed oils. Being sedentary (not moving/exercising much) also helps.
Modern, highly-processed foods are almost always loaded with sugar, refined carbs, and seed oils. You’ll want to avoid these foods (and exercise – particularly resistance training) if you want to avoid insulin resistance.
Fitting with the above theory, cannabis consumers are less likely to be insulin resistant.
In conclusion, the reason for cannabis users having lower BMI, less risk of obesity, and better metabolic health is because cannabis use reverses the obesity-causing effects of increased omega 6 consumption via seed oils in processed food.
This theory also posits the question: are some of the medical issues that cannabis is effective against caused by too much omega 6 (in the form of seed oils common in processed food) and not enough omega 3 (in the form of seafood and hemp seeds), which can lead to insulin resistance?
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