Cannabidiol, also called CBD, has become a very popular natural remedy for anything from trouble sleeping to pain relief. Now some people are touting the benefits of CBD for weight loss. But can this plant-derived product really help you slim down?
With new laws passing in states across the country, legal cannabis sales have spiked. So what is cannabis exactly? Is it the same as marijuana? And how does CBD fit in? Before you consider using CBD for weight loss (or any other health concern), it is important to examine the evidence so that you can make an informed choice.
What Is CBD?
Before you consider CBD to lose weight, it is important to clarify exactly what CBD is. There are a number of related products and distinguishing between them is essential.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) tells us that marijuana and cannabis are not the same thing. The term "cannabis" includes all products made from the plant cannabis sativa. This plant contains 540 different chemicals, one group of which is called "cannabinoids." Cannabinoids include tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which gives users the classic marijuana "high." Cannabidiol (CBD) does not have the same effects as THC.
The cannabis plant affects our bodies through two receptors: CB1 and CB2. These are like two chemical welcoming committees. CB1 hangs out mostly in the brain, whereas CB2 has homes all over the body.
When CB1 lets THC into the party, you get high. But some claim that when CB2 welcomes CBD, this new friend can have all kinds of health benefits, without any of the loopy neurologic symptoms. This is also why THC gives you the munchies, but CBD may not.
Benefits of CBD for Weight Loss
There are countless studies investigating the various benefits of CBD. For instance, a study review from 2017 states that CBD is currently being studied to treat genetic disorders, liver disease, and seizures. But research investigating the potential weight loss benefits of CBD are very limited.
Furthermore, many of the studies involve rodents, like mice or rats. But just because a mouse is able to slim down using CBD doesn't mean that humans can reap the same reward. Studies in animals are promising, but more research in humans is needed to confirm any findings. So the link between weight loss and cannabidiol still needs further research until we have a clear answer. But this is what we know so far.
May Help Supress Appetite
A 2018 study on mice explained that by blocking CB1 and stimulating CB2, CBD could theoretically aid in weight loss. CB2 decreases inflammation and food intake. A study on rats in 2012 found that CBD decreases appetite, but no human studies have proven the same.
May Increase Brown Fat
There are three types of fat. The types are defined by the International Journal of Molecular Sciences (IJMS):
- White fat organizes fat storage and hormone secretion
- Brown fat tells your body how to use its calories to create heat (thermogenesis) and use energy
- Beige fat can't decide if it wants to be white or brown and can change to either
- Brown fat is often associated with increased metabolism and fat loss. A IJMS study found that in a controlled laboratory setting (called an in vitro or test-tube study), CBD can encourage beige fat to transform into brown fat. If this holds true in human trials, that means CBD could potentially increase your metabolism, aiding in weight loss.
Another test-tube study from 2016 found much the same - that CBD promotes fat 'browning' and higher lipid metabolism (the breaking down of fat molecules).
CBD Gummies vs. CBD Oil for Weight Loss
CBD comes in a few different packages. Two popular choices are gummies and oil. Either will have the same effect on weight loss, as the delivery system will make little difference in what your body does with the CBD inside.
CBD gummies are made of a combination of sugar, coloring and gelatin just like many other gummy sweets. These colorful candies can offer a quick and tasty way to take your daily dose. Be aware, though, that since CBD is quite bitter, many manufacturers add a lot of sugar to mask the taste.
Also keep in mind that CBD manufacturing remains largely unregulated and so the dosages between products can vary substantially.
CBD oil usually comes in a glass vial with a dropper. Instructions vary between suppliers, and studies are lacking in this area. But most companies say you can mix your CBD oil in just about anything. Some manufacturers add other cannabinoids to their CBD oil, and some can even include THC. All ingredients should be listed so it is important to read product labels so you know what you are getting.
As with gummies, CBD oil can come in a range of strengths, none of which are regulated.
Potential Risks of Using CBD to Lose Weight
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) provides detailed information regarding the the use of CBD. When reading through these exhaustive questions and answers, you start to see a pattern emerge: we need more studies. While a lot of research is happening, much much more needs to be done to be able to confidently say what CBD can do for you, and that includes it's potential use for weight loss.
The FDA also makes clear that they have not approved and do not regulate CBD as any kind of supplement or consumer product, except one medication to treat seizures in certain genetic conditions. So if you try to lose weight using CBD products there may be risks involved.
Products Might Contain THC
While shopping for CBD, you may notice the terms "full spectrum" and "broad spectrum." Broad spectrum means that it has no THC, but can contain other cannibanoids. Full spectrum means that it can contain up to 0.3% THC. Be on the lookout for these terms, because if you take CBD which also has THC it may increase your appetite. And remember that THC is the element that provides psychoactive properties. If you inadvertently take THC you could render yourself unable to perform certain tasks, like driving a car.
Might Affect Motivation
No matter how well CBD turns your bad fat into good fat and holds back your appetite, this compound does not replace diet and exercise - the two methods that have been shown to help with weight loss. If you use CBD instead of proven strategies you may not see results and lose the incentive to lose weight in the first place. And you could lose motivation to lose weight using other recommended methods.
May Interact with Medications
The FDA warns that CBD can cause drowsiness on its own, but in combination with certain medications, can make it unsafe for you to drive or do anything that requires care and concentration. Some medications to be especially cautious with include:
- Antipsychotic drugs
- Anxiety medications
- Diet pills
- Medications for diarrhea
- Motion sickness medications
- Muscle relaxants
- Seizure medications
- Sleep aids
- Some allergy medications, like antihistamines
- Some antidepressants
- 'Stay awake' drugs
Before you mix any medication with CBD, have a conversation with your doctor about which of your pills could cause a dangerous problem if mixed with CBD.
Lack of Regulation
As you've seen from the FDA, cannabis is not federally regulated. The NIH notes that cannabis "poses risks with inadvertent side-effects from overuse, contamination with adulterants in preparation or harsh chemicals in the plant cultivation, and its teratogenicity in the offspring of users."
Basically, no one is in charge of which pesticides farmers use, how the plants are harvested and prepared, how clean preparation facilities are and if these products are safe for pregnant people.
In 2018, Congress passed the Farm Bill that was then signed into law. In a (very simplified) nutshell, this new law allowed licensed farmers to grow cannabis plants if they follow certain restrictions. One of these restrictions was that the cannabis grown by these farmers has to contain less than 0.3% THC to remain legal. Per the NIH, each state may regulate its sales of CBD and other hemp products. You can search for your state to learn the laws in your area.
How to Choose a CBD Product
When choosing a CBD product, you can look for clues to find the safest and best option out there.
Certificate of analysis (COA): If this is not listed on a product website, you can ask for it. The COA should tell you if the product has been tested for pesticides, heavy metals, and molds. It will also indicate if it has less than 0.3 percent THC. According to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 a product is not considered a controlled substance if it contains less than 0.3% THC.
- Consumer reviews: Hear from the CBD takers who have gone before you - they might be able to alert you to a product's quality. But keep in mind that consumer reviews are not always unbiased. Companies can provide incentives for consumers to write positive reviews therefore influencing the accuracy of the comments.
- FDA Warning Letter: If the company has made an unproved claim about their product, the FDA sends a warning letter asking them to change it. These letters are public, so you can check out your company's record.
- Ingredient list: Look for any extra ingredients you don't want, such as added sugar or THC.
- Manufacturing process: Read up on the company's certifications and how they make their CBD products.
- Testing: See if the product has been tested by an ISO 17025-compliant lab. This certification demonstrates that a lab operates competently and provides valid results.
When it comes to choosing a CBD product, it's okay to be picky. Remember to talk to your healthcare provider about whichever product you choose to be sure it is safe for you to try, especially if you take other medications (even over-the-counter options like Tylenol). But remember, that there is no strong evidence that CBD will help you to lose weight.
While planning out your weight loss journey, you may consider trying CBD. Plenty of manufacturers claim quick results, but remember to use CBD with caution. There are tried and true methods for weight loss that may be safer and more effective for you.