Obesity and the Mysteries of Motivation

Laughing Monks

Last time, Childhood Obesity News was talking about the CB1 and other cannabinoid receptors found in the brains of people and mice. The terminology is confusing, because these receptors get a lot of their input from bodily processes that don’t involve the cannabis plant.

Genetically modified mice that don’t have the receptors presumably miss out on the pleasures available through them. One of the benefits bestowed by intact cannabinoid receptors is the ability to experience joy from physical activity. Intact mice like to run on the exercise wheel. Some humans also run, or do yoga, or swing kettle bells, because to them it feels good. Others just can’t get into it.

A normal, healthy organism is hard-wired to enjoy exercise. If physical activity is necessary to health and to obesity prevention, then it’s important to know what motivates people to engage in physical activity. Turns out, one of the reasons is pleasure.

Researchers in Bordeaux, France, are opening up “new avenues of research into the mediators of pleasure — and even addiction — associated with regular physical exercise.” Well, not really so new. The phrase “natural high” has been around for a long time. A certain number of fit people have always described their attachment to extreme physicality as an addiction.

It is not news that some people are very attached to their exercise regimes. The novelty is in how much the researchers are learning about the actual pathways traveled by messages to the brain. The hypothalamus has all kinds of signals beamed at it, some to stimulate it into further action and some to inhibit it from this or that. Together, they add up to motivation, or the lack thereof, and it appears that science is actually discovering new things about the human motivational process.

Previous research on cannabis itself also came from France, though strangely, the study completed at the Louis Mourier Hospital in Paris used data that originated in the United States, derived from about 50,000 subjects. One of the conclusions was:

The survey showed that about 22 to 25 percent of people who don’t smoke pot were obese, while 16 to 17 percent of cannabis users were obese. Obesity was less common among users who smoked pot more frequently… The results show the prevalence of obesity is lower among people who frequently smoke pot compared with those who have never inhaled.

This was not the result expected by addiction psychiatrist Yann Le Strat and the rest of the team, but it was the result they got. Most likely, their expectations were colored by a stereotype left over from the 60s, the myth of “the munchies.” One of the medical benefits attributed to cannabis is its ability to prevent nausea and stimulate appetite in chemotherapy patients.

Not surprisingly, a substance can act differently on different people, according to circumstances, and proponents even say that responsible users can direct their experience. For example, a new subculture has been growing, populated by dedicated athletes, represented by such influential figures as Joe Rogan and Eddie Bravo, and fueled by marijuana.

As Fox News writer Rachael Rettner notes, the relationship between cannabis and obesity has not been extensively studied. And neither has the seemingly paradoxical relationship with extreme athleticism — the phenomenon of the stoned jock.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “About Taking Up a Physical Activity Can Be Hard to Keep,” ScienceDaily, 01/04/13
Source: “Pot Smokers May Have Lower Risk of Obesity,” Fox News, 09/07/11
Image by Swami Stream (Swaminathan).

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