A recent study in the journal Health Economics found that medical marijuana laws could be linked to a reduction in obesity levels.
Researchers from San Diego State University and Cornell University found that state-level medical marijuana laws are “associated with a 2 percent to 6 percent decline in the probability of obesity.” In fact, they are optimistic that the percentage could be higher in the long term. In terms of cost, researchers estimate that obesity related medical costs could be roughly decreased to $58 to $115 annually per person.
The findings seem to contradict the long-standing notion that cannabis use leads to an increased appetite. The study’s authors even acknowledge that “randomized control trials provide evidence that marijuana use leads to increased appetite and caloric intake.”
Researches also hoped to uncover more health outcomes at the societal level as a result of increased marijuana availability. To do so, they analyzed 20 years of data from the federal Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, including over 5 million individual survey responses. During their research period (1990-2012), many states implemented medical marijuana laws.
As a consequence, the passage of these medical marijuana laws led to a decline in obesity. Not only that, they also found a decline in body mass index (BMI). The real question with these findings is: How is this possible?
When it came to older adults, researchers found that medical marijuana laws are “associated with an increase in physical wellness and frequent exercise.” How is this possible, you ask? Medical marijuana is often used to treat chronic pain, especially for older patients. Once the effects of cannabis kick in, patients seem to be more active, thereby, burning more calories.
When it came to the younger demographic, ages 18 to 24, researchers found that medical marijuana laws are associated with a “3.1 percent reduction in the probability of alcohol consumption and a 4.8 percent reduction in the probability of binge drinking.” Researchers suggest that younger adults tend to “substitute away from highly caloric beverages toward a lower-calorie marijuana ‘high,’ resulting in lower body weight and likelihood of obesity.”
The notion that if legalized, marijuana would lower alcohol consumption is highly debatable. For example, in the first year of Colorado’s marijuana legalization, alcohol sales have risen. Other research suggests that marijuana availability decreases alcohol consumption. Needless to say, the research on this issue needs far more consensus.
Be wary of reading too much into these findings says Rosie Pacula, director of the BING Center for Health Economics at RAND Corp. She explains that “these data aren’t going to provide us with the definitive answer because of the issues with the data and the time period being evaluated.” Although the study may not be a definitive answer to the link between cannabis and obesity, it’s a step in the right direction.