I know I know, you may be thinking, not another weight loss solution!? Com’n. I get it, most things that offer a way to lose weight whilst dodging the hard work are a gimmick. But when used as a complimentary approach to diet, exercise and lifestyle adjustments, some can actually work.
Is CBD one of them? Is using CBD for weight loss a thing?
Well, we’re gonna take a dive into the relationship between CBD oil and weight loss, and see if it could legit be an option.
To understand how CBD could be used for weight loss, I’ll briefly explain the mechanism(s) behind how it works in the body.
The Endocannabinoid System and Body Weight
If you’re new to the endocannabinoid system (ECS), you can read more about it in this simple overview. But essentially, its a chemical messaging system in the body which continuously ensures our bodily functions such as metabolism and appetite, are working in a balanced way.
The ECS uses its own chemical messengers (endocannabinoids) to send instructions to special (cannabinoid) receptors all over the body. This forms a system which allows one part of the body to ‘talk’ to another, and is a powerful way to control food intake, body weight and energy balance.
The ECS tightly co-ordinates the desire to eat, and the digestion and metabolism of nutrients from food.
It does this by controlling different organs, to suppress/promote appetite and metabolism:
- Hypothalamus (brain) – controls appetite and metabolic rate of other organs
- Liver – cholesterol synthesis, glucose uptake, storage and synthesis, fat burning
- Muscle – glucose uptake and use, fat burning
- Fat tissue – glucose uptake, fat storage, fat burning
- Pancreas – insulin release
- Gastrointestinal tract – speed of food transit, nutrient absorption
Here’s an image which sums it up nicely.
Cannabinoid receptors (CB1) are found on these organs, which allows the ECS to turn appetite and metabolism up or down.
CB1 has been shown to exert the most influence over how much a person eats (1), how much of it they store, and the rate at which they burn it off.
Research has actually found that people with an overactive ECS are overweight (2), because they have a high level of CB1 receptor activation, which turns appetite up and metabolism down.
They tend to eat more, store more energy as fat and burn less energy off than people with a less active ECS.
Want to know how the ECS becomes overactive? Read this post.
So really, the key to weight loss here is to help turn down too much ECS activity so that the body naturally wants to eat less and burn more energy.
That key ladies and gentlemen, could very well be CBD.
Lets have a look at some CBD oil weight loss mechanisms to see how it works.
CBD Oil Weight loss Mechanisms
Whats really neat about CBD is that it can actually help restore equilibrium within the ECS. It effectively buffers against an overactive ECS, by blocking endocannabinoids from binding to CB1.
Remember we said that people who are overweight have a high level of CB1 activation? Well, CBD may actually block the CB1 receptor from being over-activated, by acting as a negative allosteric modulator (see the diagram).
This may help turn down appetite and rev up metabolism.
CBD and Appetite
One of the ways CBD could work for weight loss is by changing how much food a person eats, by influencing their appetite.
Appetite is controlled in an area of the brain called the hypothalamus. There are tons of CB1 receptors found in the hypothalamus, which control loads of bodily functions including appetite.
Researchers have found an excessive amount of endocannabinoids (Anandamide) in the hypothalamus of rats that are overweight (3). This overstimulates CB1 driving an excessive appetite.
Here’s a diagram which shows how that happens:
Here’s how that happens:
However in surveys, 5-7% of CBD users actually said that it increased their appetites.
CBD has been known to act in opposing ways depending on dose and the activity of the persons ECS receiving it.
In rats, CBD only reduces food intake when the ECS is overactive (9).
Under normal conditions, CBD does not reduce food intake in otherwise healthy rats and mice (10).
What that means is that CBD may only reduce appetite for people who have an abnormally high working ECS, such as in obesity. On the flip side, people who have a low functioning ECS or are underweight theoretically may experience an increase in appetite.
These effects also depend upon dose.
CBD and Metabolism
The ECS determines our body fat by controlling the rate of cellular metabolism. Generally, an overactive ECS may promote weight gain, whereas an under-active one may promote weight loss.
An overactive ECS promotes weight gain by:
- Reducing mitochondrial numbers
- Reducing their capacity to burn fat
- Favouring more WAT (the type of ‘bad fat’)
CBD could promote a healthy body weight by buffering against an overactive ECS, improving how energy is used and stored in the body.
CBD Promotes More ‘Good’ Body Fat
Research with CBD suggests that it could influence metabolism and body fat by changing the type of fat cells we have.
White adipose tissue (WAT) is a type of fat cell which likes to store energy as fat, and more of this type is associated with higher body fat.
Brown adipose tissue (BAT) on the other hand likes to burn fat, and more of this type of fat cell is associated with higher metabolic rate and lower body weight.
CBD encourages a process called browning, which is basically the conversion of WAT cells into BAT cells (11).
CBD Increases Fat Burning Capacity
BAT cells have very high numbers of mitochondria, which are little energy power plants we use to make energy. Having more means we burn off energy as opposed to storing it.
So basically CBD can rev up cellular metabolism by increasing the number of mitochondria in cells.
Not only that, but the research also found that CBD increased mitochondrial activity by activating genes which promote metabolism, especially ones that encourage the burning of fat (11).
This happens in other cells too, like in the muscles and liver which also promotes a healthy body weight, and healthy levels of cholesterol and blood lipids as well.
CBD Supports Insulin
Insulin promotes increases in body fat by encouraging cells to store energy. Too much insulin is a driving force of obesity, and is raised in repose to a high sugar intake.
CBD has been found to reduce insulin when its excessively high (13). This may be protective against further weight gain, as less insulin is needed to regulate blood sugar safely.
CBD Prevents Weight Gain
In real terms, CBD has actually been shown to prevent body weight gain in rats given access to unlimited food compared to those not given it (14).
A clinical trial also found less weight gain in schizophrenics given CBD compared to the antipsychotic medication amisulpride, which typically promotes weight gain (15).
Although this isn’t evidence of weight loss, the research this suggests CBD may buffer against weight gain.
This makes sense based on what we know about CBD and restoring equilibrium. You’d expect CBD to bring an overactive ECS back to the point where it isn’t promoting weight gain or weight loss but homeostasis (aka balance).
However, other trials have reported weight loss as a side effect of taking high doses of pure CBD (16), (17), (18). So perhaps with high doses or long term use, CBD may skew the ECS towards weight loss in some people.
Can CBD Oil Make You Gain Weight?
Again it all depends on your ECS as an individual. CBD tends to work as a counterbalance to bring the ECS back to equilibrium.
For example, for someone who is overweight CBD may reduce weight gain, or even promote weight loss (still yet to be confirmed).
However, for someone who is underweight, CBD may prevent any further weight loss or promote weight gain.
In patients with IBD, who are typically underweight, daily CBD of 170mg (and a little THC) was associated with significant weight gain after 1 year (21).
Its too early to speculate as to whether CBD could be that Shangri-la of weight loss solutions many of us yearn for. However, there’s some evidence it can affect body weight in either direction.
My best (educated) guess is that the direction which CBD acts is dependent on what a certain individual is most in need of. Thats depends on the activity of a persons ECS, and how it may need balancing.
I eagerly await research that looks at the effect of CBD on body weight in relation to different peoples ECS.