Forget marijuana -- medical or otherwise -- as a performance-enhancer for such accolades as "winner" of the Chubby Bunny competition. Consider the magic plant, instead, as a partner in weight loss.
That's right, pard: the antimunchies. Or at least the antifatties.
Americans who don't use marijuana are more likely than cannabis users to be obese, according to a study conducted by two French scientists, recently published in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Using data collected by previous investigations, the authors of "Obesity and Cannabis Use" found that folks who smoked cannabis three times a week were about 50 percent less likely to be dangerously overweight (22 percent of nonsmokers were obese, compared to 14 percent of smokers).
That may run contrary to folks' prevailing image of marijuana smokers indulging in midnight fast food runs, but here in the Bay Area, there's scientific, as well as anecdotal evidence to back up this perhaps surprising find.
For many in Northern California, marijuana use may be part of a general lifestyle: Of eating well, of exercising, of riding a bicycle taxi to work instead of an SUV. "None of our people are that fat," agreed longtime marijuana activist Michelle Aldrich, who with her husband Michael, the former operator of a dispensary involved in a landmark court case, received lifetime achievement awards in marijuana activism from High Times in June.
But why? Aldrich couldn't give a scientific reason. "I really don't know what to say -- but it's true," she said. "I don't know too many fat marijuana smokers."
In an interview with MSNBC, the study's authors admitted that the findings are preliminary, and are not at all intended to be interpreted as "smoke pot, get thin." Other factors such as physical activity and whether or not the marijuana users also used tobacco could take a role, but "we did our best to take them into account and still showed the association [between marijuana use and less obesity]," said Dr. Yann Le Strat, a psychiatrist at Louis-Mourier Hospital in Colombes, France.
"But there are a lot of different substances in cannabis," Le Strat told MSNBC, repeating what many a medical cannabis advocate and marijuana physician has been saying for years. "The observed association may be due to the effects of one of them."
One could be the body's endocannabinoid system, a set of receptors active in the human brain and elsewhere that, scientists say, is specifically set up to react to compounds in the cannabis plant -- a sort of lock and key situation where the substances in marijuana fit perfectly into brain neurotransmitters. A scientist in Israel, the late Ester Fride, had posited that the endocannabinoid system was vital for newborns: If a baby had a deficiency in its endocannabinoid system, it would refuse to suckle its mother's breast and die.
"Maybe that's part of it," Aldrich guessed. "If you smoke, you put your endocannabinoid system back into balance and you're just a normal person again. That's why people use it for pain and depression."
Perhaps the most encouraging bit of the study, for advocates of the plant, is that scientists in America didn't dismiss it: They wanted more information.
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