Can CBD help with weight loss?

December 07, 2020

The world is awash with fad diets, meal plans, fasting strategies, and calorie counting obsessions, all with the same aim; to lose weight, look fantastic, and to do it as quickly and easily as possible. Unfortunately, when it comes to weight loss, shortcuts and tricks rarely pay off. Losing weight isn’t as straightforward as following a few simple steps in an Instagram post, but CBD might be a surprising tool in a healthy weight loss strategy.

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is one of the non-psychoactive elements found in cannabis and is reported to have a number of health benefits. Scientific studies and anecdotal stories all suggest CBD can help with a wide range of issues, such as pain relief, reducing inflammation, and aiding with sleep. While CBD has gained a bit of a reputation for being a ‘magical elixir’ for many complaints and conditions, the relationship between CBD and weight loss is not widely discussed. In recent years, some research has shown some signs that CBD could be helpful for weight loss, both directly and indirectly, through various mechanisms.

CBD can boost metabolism

Research suggests CBD may boost metabolism speed and reduce food intake. Findings from a wide-reaching study into the relationship between weight and marijuana suggested that users of cannabis usually have lower body mass indices than non-users. This may sound contradictory, as cannabis consumption is usually associated with binge eating thanks to ‘the munchies’. However, the study suggested that cannabis may increase body weight in low-weight individuals but not in normal-weight or overweight individuals.

Every human has an endocannabinoid system (ECS). The ECS is a specialized group of receptors present in tissue cells throughout your body, including cells of the nervous system, muscular system, digestive system and immune system. The ECS is responsible for the regulation of hormone secretion related to reproductive functions and other physiological responses. Consuming CBD oil helps ‘regulate’ the ECS. By regulating the ECS, studies showed that cannabinoids such as CBD not only lead a reduction in food intake, but provide improvements in body composition, such as preferential losses of body fat while retaining lean muscle mass.

CBD can suppress appetite and reduce the need for ‘comfort eating’

Although recreational marijuana and cannabis use is usually associated with snacking behaviour and weight gain, those who use marijuana products tend to weigh less than those who don’t. 

In 2012 a study was conducted on the appetites of rats that were impacted by different cannabinoids – CBD, CBN, and CBG. The study showed that only CBN increased the appetite of the rats, while CBG and CBD both decreased it, “supporting the need for further mechanistic and behavioural work examining possible anti-obesity effects of cannabidiol.”

Psychological factors heavily influence our eating habits, and many people comfort eat as a coping mechanism. As mentioned previously, the ECS extends across the body and into the brain, including into areas that are known to control emotional behaviour, mood, stress, and fear.  Reports of CBD helping people control anxiety are incredibly common, so it’s possible that CBD’s influence on appetite suppression may not be as much to do with the cannabinoid directly affecting people’s eating habits, and more to do with the relaxing properties of CBD. 

CBD promotes ‘browning’ of fat cells

There are two types of fat in the human body, white and brown. The majority of our body fat is white fat, also called white adipose tissue (WAT), which is stored fat. White fat is stored around the body, both under the skin and around the abdomen and organs such as the liver, intestines and stomach. White fats are the predominant type, they provide insulation and cushioning for organs, and store excess energy in the form of triglycerides. When accumulated in excess, however, this fat is responsible for illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease, as well as obesity.  Brown fat, also referred to as brown adipose tissue (BAT), gets its colour from iron-rich mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell. 

When our body burns brown fat a process of thermogenesis occurs, creating heat. To support this, white fat is burnt for energy. Studies have shown that individuals at optimal weights have more brown fat than those who are overweight.   

White fats can be converted to brown fats or, bad fat can be turned into good fat through exercise, exposure to cold temperatures, and adequate sleep. While CBD is no replacement for good diet and exercise, studies in mice have shown that CBD can increase the expression of genes responsible for browning of fat.

If CBD can produce the same properties in humans, it could become an important part of a healthcare regime for people with excess white fat, reducing obesity and secondary conditions such as diabetes.

CBD reduces muscle pain

As well as weight-loss benefits, CBD has anti-inflammatory properties that can help soothe muscle pain, keeping our joints mobile for longer, and preventing unwelcomed interruptions to our fitness routines.

Working out can lead to damage to muscle fibres, which then become inflamed and cause soreness and aches that can last for days, meaning you go ‘less hard’ at the gym next time. Various studies support the idea that CBD may be an effective anti-inflammatory, allowing faster recovery times. Meaning the quicker you can recover, the faster you can get back to training. 

As CBD is a naturally occurring substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency in 2017 lifted any restrictions around CBD within sporting. Many high profile and well-known athletes and sportspeople openly support the use of CBD and its positive effects on their performance. For example, MMA fighter Nate Diaz publicly spoke about his cannabidiol use, praising it for its pain-relieving properties.

Studies into the direct benefits of CBD for weight loss are early and tentative, mostly based on animal studies that have not yet been transferred to humans. While CBD might not be a direct part of a weight management and well-being programme, the increasing number of trials and laboratory studies into its anti-inflammatory properties, appetite suppression and even changes at the cell level, suggest that unofficially there seems to be increasing evidence that CBD has therapeutic properties for the health and well-being of the individual that goes well beyond our current knowledge of this product. Adding CBD to a regime of healthy food and regular exercise could help improve results and reduce health risks. 

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