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Appetite & Cannabidiol: How Does CBD Impact Hunger & Weight?

No matter how much you may want to blame your ancestors for leaving us in this chaotic world, you can’t deny they had found some amazing natural ways to survive, combat diseases, and enjoy life.

One such medium that helped them do it all was cannabis.

From making clothes and ropes to soothing nerves and combating diseases, from improving immunity to simply giving you a great time – cannabis was a part of their lives!

But with advancements in modern medicine and pharmaceutical products, cannabis was pushed aside as something evil. That is, until recently when research into its chemical composition brought to light the existence of some non-psychedelic compounds with unique behavior and pharmacokinetics.

Most diseases have a specific impact on appetite. Moreover, with every medication we take, there is also a significant effect on our appetite and body weight.

Any disease that makes you miserable may either make you lose your appetite or make you hungrier than usual. These may include anxiety, depression, diabetes mellitus Type II, hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, polycystic ovarian disease (PCOD), insulin resistance, cancer, etc. All these diseases adversely impact our appetite and weight.

Then, there are the drugs. Medications, like steroids, can make you gain both appetite and weight. They affect your metabolism, influence how the body processes and stores fat, leading to a heightened appetite and weight gain. These cause additional fat deposits around the abdomen. Of course, there are many other prescription drugs, such as anti-cancer, anti-epileptic, and anti-depressants, etc. that lower your appetite and eventually decrease your weight. Such weight disorders are common side-effects of most modern drugs.

With cannabis, the usual consensus was that it gives you the munchies!

Cannabis (marijuana) was generally known as a hunger inducer, and for a good reason too! It did increase your appetite for fatty, sweet, and protein-rich foods. Scientists scrambled to isolate the cannabis component that stimulates hunger – until they found that in THC (∆-9 Tetrahydrocannabinol). Research showed that it was this compound that causes insatiable craving after smoking marijuana.

However, researchers soon found many more compounds in cannabis, some that may behave like THC, while many others that don’t. But the confusion over how each of these could impact appetite and weight have prevailed for many years.

Several years of research had established that CBD, one of the key cannabinoids found in cannabis, i.e. besides THC, has a wide range of effects on the human body and mind – some of which were highly beneficial from a therapeutic standpoint.

Many more years of research later, the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) finally approved CBD for treating two rare and severe forms of epilepsy.

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While many CBD advocates and health agencies are pushing for more research and complete legalization of CBD, this cannabinoid is still largely “under the FDA scanner”. It can’t still be sold as a drug or food item, despite the many scientific support of its efficacy in modulating the way our body processes fat, regulates appetite and manages body weight.

Does CBD Stimulate Hunger?

CBD use may stimulate hunger. Oh, but that’s not necessarily bad or in the way that THC does! It certainly does NOT give you the munchies!

It can even help people who do not want to eat, gain appetite, and those who are gaining weight, eat less.

Shocking…amazing…or maybe…sounds contradictory?

Not really.

Past studies have proven CBD’s interesting relationship with appetite and weight management. Its use makes us less nauseous and calms our digestive and nervous systems, thus allowing us to eat.

But, how does that happen?

Like many other systems in humans (and all vertebrates), there is an endocannabinoid system (ECS). Along with its network of neurotransmitters, receptors, enzymes, and fatty acids, it works in tandem with the nervous system to modulate the chemical balance among the organs and maintain their smooth functioning.

CB1 receptors are primarily found in the brain and the central nervous system, while CB2 receptors are mainly concentrated in the immune system and the peripheral nervous system. To a certain extent, these receptors overlap over some of the bodily systems and functions and extend to the adipose tissue as well. This is why they both play an important role in the way the body processes fat, modulate appetite, and control body weight.

The ECS’s role, particularly that of anandamide, in regulating appetite was first discovered by a couple of scientists in 1999, which was later confirmed by another team of scientists, including Dr. R Mechoulam, in 2000. The latter study also delved into how far anandamide’s effects extended for appetite, weight gain, and cognitive attributes.

It was further discovered in 2002 that anandamide activates the hypothalamus with the help of CB1 receptors to induce overeating. In certain experiments, CB1 receptor-deficient mice were used to prove the CB1 receptor’s role in stimulating appetite.

  • According to a 2018 study, published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, the ECS was primarily found to be responsible for regulating several metabolic processes – starting from the amount of food consumed to the types of food preferred. According to the researchers, it is a proven fact that CB1 receptors, when blocked selectively, can bring down your body weight, while CB2 can help body “brown” white fats and transform chemical energy into thermic energy.
  • For another study, published in Pharmaceuticals (Basel) in 2018, the central goal of the scientists involved in it, was to find out the “the molecular, cellular and pharmacological logic” behind the CBRs in weight control. The modulation of CB1 receptors was found to regulate the body’s affinity to sugar and fat intake.

These studies seem to indicate a confusing relationship between CBD and the ECS. Meanwhile, CBD also helps induce hunger among people who have developed averseness towards eating due to their medications, treatment, or other health-related conditions, causing nausea and/or vomiting. CBD is a known nausea-suppressant.

In separate studies, two teams of scientists, both led by Linda A Parker, established that cannabinoids can effectively regulate nausea and vomiting.

  • In the 2011 study, published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, Linda A Parker’s team found CBD’s anti-nausea/anti-emetic effects are mediated by indirect activation of the non-ECS 5-HT1A receptors.
  • In the 2014 study, published in the European Journal of Pharmacology, Parker’s new team found evidence of CBD’s inhibition of FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase), along with its 5-HT3 receptor antagonism, responsible for its appetite modulation role. These two actions induce higher levels of anandamide in the bloodstream, resulting in anti-nausea and anti-emetic (vomiting) effects.

In several other studies, CBD was observed to heighten appetite as a side effect.

  • In a study dealing with epileptic children, published in the Journal of Epilepsy and Behavior in 2015, almost 30% of children reported an increase in appetite.
  • Out of 2409 participants, almost 6.35 % had an increase in appetite, considered a comparatively safe side effect, in a study, published in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research in 2018.
  • In another study, published in Frontiers of Neurology in 2018, a group of researchers found similar appetite and weight gain when tested on a group of 117 patients.

CBD Can Curb Appetite & Body Weight: Scientific Research

Several preliminary studies have indicated that CBD might be able to decrease the food intake and promote the conversion of poorly processed and stored body fats into energy-supplying brown fats, thus promoting weight loss. CBD has even been considered as an aid to obesity treatment.

CBD can bring about weight loss in three ways:

  • A 2016 study, published in the Molecular and Cellular Biochemistry, CBD was found to promote “browning” of white fat cells in the body. This triggers the loss of stored fat, an increase in the body’s heat and energy level, and reduced fat deposition.
  • A 2019 study, published in the Cell Death & Disease, revealed that CBD supports our metabolic health by targeting the mitochondrial (cell’s energy-producing center) system. It was also found to regulate calcium levels in the mitochondria, thus promoting healthy metabolism.
  • A 2020 review, published in the Frontiers in Endocrinology, further suggested that CBD may be able to alleviate symptoms of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.

Several other studies support CBD’s efficacy as a metabolic balancer.

  • A 2011 study, published in the Neuroscience Letters, researchers gave rats daily CBD doses of 2.5 mg/kg and 5 mg/kg for 14 days. It exhibited a significant decrease in body weight gain, with the effect being more pronounced for 5mg/kg doses.
  • In another 2010 study, published in Neuropsychopharmacology, it was seen that CBD can even counter THC’s munchies, along with lowering the overall intoxication level.

Last Word: Is CBD A Hunger-Inducer or Hunger-Suppressant?

Unfortunately, a lot more research needs to be conducted to arrive at anything conclusive. While some studies indicate CBD can induce hunger by fighting nausea and vomiting tendencies, others suggest that it can help reduce both appetite and body fat.

Some studies show that CBD decreases appetite in obese individuals, others show that it induces hunger among patients, with conditions or taking medications that reduce appetite and will to consume food.

Perhaps, it would be safe to say that CBD has a strange way of knowing what our body needs and when, to maintain homeostasis and that it doesn’t react in any specific direction. Rather it acts in multiple directions to bring about this homeostasis and support a healthier life.

Ivan writes about Cannabis at The Cannabis Radar. He has a degree in Nutrition Sciences from University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Centre. He likes to spend his spare time reading to his daughter or spending time with his wife.

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