Obesity, Metabolism, and Motivation

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New areas of research are opening up every day. Some interesting recent discoveries have been that mice with impaired cannabinoid receptors don’t like to exercise, and that some humans who use cannabis do like to exercise very much. And, surprisingly, people who use pot are less likely to be obese than non-users. Especially if they use a lot of it.

Rachael Rettner of Fox News says:

The reason behind the link is not clear. It could be that people who use cannabis also engage in other behaviors that lower their obesity risk. Or it may be that pot smokers exercise more or have a specific diet that keeps them thin.

That last notion is not as preposterous as sounds. Marijuana is said to enhance the taste of food, which certainly can be disastrous when processed junk food is concerned. On the other hand, the dreaded “munchies” turns out to be a coin with two sides.

For some users, appreciation for real, natural, fresh food is enhanced. Anecdotal evidence from a stoned person snacking on green beans straight off the vine can be convincing. Another claim is that the stoned palate is the discriminating palate, more likely to react against chemical additives and induced “umami,” and to go for sprouts rather than chocolate-covered bacon.

Rettner also says:

Another possibility is that components of cannabis may help people lose weight. If this turns out to be the case, researchers should investigate which components these might be and try to put them into drug form…

As it turns out, researchers at the University of Buckingham are on the case. According to Richard Gray, science correspondent for the The Telegraph, cannabis leaves contain two substances that can help the body burn energy more efficiently. And that’s not all. What about a substance that can increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin and protect insulin-producing cells? What could that mean for the future of diabetes?

Gray’s reportage says:

Test in animals have already shown the compounds can help treat type two diabetes while also helping to reduce levels of cholesterol in the blood stream and fat in key organs like the liver. They are now conducting clinical trials in 200 patients in the hope of producing a drug that can be used to treat patients suffering from ‘metabolic syndrome,’ where diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity combine to increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.

Dr. Stephen Wright, director of research and development at GW Pharmaceuticals, told the reporter that THCV and cannabidiol both impact how the bodies of mice deal with fat, insulin, and sugar. The substances “boost the animals’ metabolism” and increase energy expenditure while suppressing appetite.

At Aberdeen University in Scotland, researchers are really going deep, looking for a genetic switch. The body naturally produces its own pleasure chemicals, or endocannabinoids, which are wasted if the receptors for them are missing or inoperative. The cannabinoid receptors are produced by a gene called CNR1, and scientists are currently wondering how to influence the expression of the gene, because those chemicals and their receptors are all mixed up with “memory, mood, appetite and pain.”

As readers of Childhood Obesity News are aware, appetite has a lot to do with obesity, obviously. Pain is connected with obesity through “comfort eating.” Memory is connected through another kind of comfort eating, the nostalgic longing to relive one’s childhood. Mood is connected, because undesirable and unpleasant moods lead to comfort eating or anger eating or other consumption behaviors that have no relation to the body’s actual need for nutrition at the time.

The reporter quotes team member Dr. Alasdair MacKenzie:

We chose to look at one specific genetic difference in CNR1 because we know it is linked to obesity and addiction. What we found was a mutation that caused a change in the genetic switch for the gene itself…

Further elucidation comes from Professor Ruth Ross:

Our study is one of the first to explore the possibility that changes in gene switches are involved in causing side effects to drugs. We believe this approach will be crucially important in the future development of more effective personalized medicine, with fewer side effects.

Investigation continues.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Pot Smokers May Have Lower Risk of Obesity,” Fox News, 09/07/11
Source: “Cannabis could be used to treat obesity-related diseases,” The Telegraph, 07/08/12
Source: “’Cannabis’ receptor discovery may help understanding of obesity and pain,” Phys.org, 08/23/12
Image by octal (Ryan Lackey).

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