It's clear that obesity in North America is a serious issue in need of understanding and preventative healthcare measures. A recent study shows that marijuana may be a part of the solution to the problem.
The CDC's latest stats show that nearly 35 percent of Americans struggle with obesity. The problem isn't just limited to Americans either, and the percentages jump greatly when shifting from those labeled clinically obese to overweight.
What isn't as clear are the root causes, and even fuzzier still are the solutions. It's probably safe to say that an end to obesity will not come in the form of a single solution, but rather an array of approaches, policies, and activities.
Until now, the role that cannabis consumption might play in weight management probably has not been well considered. After all, the stereotypical image of your average stoner has him hard on a munchie-fueled binge after lighting up.
But a new study published in the journal Health Economics looked at the effect of medical marijuana laws on body weight and found some interesting data that may show the positive role legalization can play in combating fat.
Mic.com reported the findings of the study Dec. 4. The main conclusion: people in states that have legalized medical marijuana are less likely to be obese.
"The enforcement of [medical marijuana laws is] associated with a 2% to 6% decline in the probability of obesity," researchers from the San Diego State University and Cornell wrote.
The findings also showed places that embraced medical weed had a roughly $58 to $115 reduction in per-person costs of obesity-related medical expenses. "What we know, and have strong evidence for, is that these policies do have significant effects on health outcomes," study co-author Jeffrey Swigert told Mic.
Cannabis consumers drink less booze
The authors of the study say the munchies aren't a myth. Cannabis is an appetite stimulant, and the reasons are well documented. So that couldn't explain why it's less likely someone would be obese in a legal state.
However, researchers discovered cannabis users are less likely to consume alcohol.
It came a surprise to researchers: Legalizing weed in any capacity tended to replace alcohol in both younger and older populations. Among young people, who are most prone to binge-drinking, the effects could be particularly significant.
"If you think about our ability to cut down on binge-drinking, five beers, that's a lot of calories," said Swigert. Marijuana therapy also caused "increased physical activity" among older cohorts, which was credited with weight reduction in that demographic.
In the short term, it may be hard to determine the exact effects of legalization on the obesity problem, but studies like this one are a good start. As the march toward legalization continues and more states embrace a regulated market, it will become easier to study the effects of cannabis consumption and deepen our understanding of complex issues like obesity.