Could Legalized Cannabis be Reducing Obesity?

By: Timothy Bidon

Could legalized marijuana help stave off America’s obesity epidemic? Contrary to popular belief, new research indicates that this may be the case.

A scientific study conducted by Cornell University and San Diego State University was recently published in the Journal of Health Economics and is challenging long-held beliefs about marijuana and weight gain. The study found that at a state-level, legalized marijuana seems to create a consistent decline in obesity ranging from 2% to 6%. Simultaneously, the research team also found that marijuana use leads to increased appetite and caloric intake, so how can this seemingly contradictory report make sense?

The answer lies buried in over two decades of data. The study analyzed 20 years of records from the federal Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance Survey, which included over 5 million individual survey responses. Researchers focused on a period between 1990 and 2012, in which many states enacted medical marijuana programs. By comparing obesity statistics in states with medical marijuana programs as opposed to those without, the group was able to identify concrete trends.

In fact, the reasons that marijuana impacts obesity may differ between age groups, the researchers found. In respondents aged over 35, legalized marijuana was linked to an increase in regular exercise and overall health consciousness. In those younger than 35, marijuana was found to contribute to a reduction in alcohol consumption and, as a direct result, a decline in obesity rates.

The findings hold great potential from both a public health standpoint and an economic standpoint. Obesity is a major health crisis in America and puts substantial financial pressure on the healthcare industry. In states where medical marijuana is legalized, it’s estimated that individuals see a $58 to $115 cost-reduction in obesity-related medical costs annually.

Marijuana has proven its ability to tackle ailments time and time again, both on an individual and societal level. If we are to understand obesity as a national ailment, shouldn’t we be willing to discuss medical marijuana in equally broad terms?

Lead image source: San Fransisco Eater