A few years ago, most people had never heard of CBD (also known as cannabidiol), but today more than half of American adults say they’ve tried a product containing it, according to a 2022 survey of 2,000 Americans conducted for Forbes Health by OnePoll. The compound, one of many found in cannabis and hemp plants, has become a popular addition to gummies, drinks, sprays and even pet products. What makes it so popular?
“Research indicates that CBD may be effective in decreasing inflammation, pain, anxiety, depression, insomnia, autoimmune and neurological disorders, and other debilitating conditions,” he says. Janice Newell Bissex, RDNa holistic cannabis practitioner at Jannabis Wellness and the director of the Cannabinoid Medical Sciences Program at John Patrick University School of Integrative and Functional Medicine in South Bend, Indiana.
But those aren’t the only reasons people are looking to CBD. The latest buzz is that it can help you eat less and lose weight. Is it delivered? Here’s what health experts want you to know.
What is CBD?
It’s easy to confuse CBD with cannabis (the plant that marijuana comes from), but they’re not the same thing. CBD is one of more than 100 compounds known as cannabinoids found in the cannabis and hemp plants, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. THC (also known as tetrahydrocannabinol) is another cannabinoid in cannabis (but not hemp, research shows), but unlike THC, CBD is not a psychoactive substance, so it won’t get you high.
That doesn’t mean it’s completely legal. Because cannabis is still a controlled substance, CBD derived from the cannabis plant is illegal at the federal level, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). On the other hand, hemp-derived CBD is legal in most states. But there are some exceptions and CBD laws are constantly changing. The best way to know for sure is to check with your state’s health department.
Can CBD help you lose or maintain weight?
Cannabinoids have long been known to interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system, which plays a role in regulating appetite and metabolism, among other functions. Because of this relationship, researchers have been interested in exploring the therapeutic use of CBD in weight loss and obesity.
To date, however, most of the available research on CBD and weight has been conducted with animals or in vitro studies, not actual humans. Consider the claims that CBD helps burn fat, for example. They are based on a test tube study who found that CBD can help convert unhealthy white fat into a calorie-burning type of fat called brown fat, in animal cells.
“Animal studies can tell us what to study in humans, but you can’t draw a firm conclusion that CBD helps with weight loss based on animal studies,” he says. Peter Grinspoon, MD, a primary care physician and cannabis specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “Sometimes animal studies translate to humans and sometimes they don’t, so you really have to do the human studies to make sure it works.” In general, he says, there aren’t many great studies showing that CBD promotes weight loss in humans: “It can cause some people to gain weight and other people to lose weight.”
There is a bit more research into the parent of CBD, cannabis. But cannabis contains hundreds of compounds beyond CBD, so they are hardly equivalent. For example, a study published in 2020 in Diabetes found that cannabis users metabolized glucose more efficiently than non-users, but assuming the same is true for CBD is a big leap. Right now, the official word from the American Diabetes Association is that CBD is unlikely to improve blood sugar or insulin levels in people with diabetes.
The results of a three-year national prospective study revealed that cannabis users are less prone to obesity than non-cannabis users (despite marijuana’s reputation for getting people high). And a study published in 2019 in the International Journal of Epidemiology found that cannabis users were less likely to gain weight than people who never touched the stuff.
But don’t get too excited, say the study’s authors: “We still don’t have enough definitive evidence to answer the ‘why?’ question,” he says James C. Anthony, PhD, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Michigan State University and co-author of the study. “We would like to see more replications of this inverse association before anyone makes large investments in mechanistic research.”
Dr. Anthony isn’t the only expert urging caution. “Right now, the marketing claims are skyrocketing far above the actual scientific evidence,” says Dr. Grinspoon. “That doesn’t mean CBD doesn’t work [for weight loss]but it hasn’t been proven to work as well as people say.”
Although there is little evidence that CBD use directly affects metabolism or appetite, it may help with weight management in other ways. “Many people eat more when they’re stressed, in pain, or exhausted,” says Bissex. “So if CBD can help manage these issues, it makes sense that it can help decrease overeating.”
There is evidence that CBD can help in these situations. A retrospective study of 103 psychiatric clinic patients given CBD found that anxiety decreased and sleep improved in most patients within the first month.
“Sleep deprivation has been shown to increase the release of ghrelin, which increases appetite and hunger,” adds Bissex. “By enabling a better night’s sleep, it’s possible that CBD can thwart this release of ghrelin, thereby reducing appetite.” And if aches and pains are keeping you away from the gym, CBD’s anti-inflammatory action can ease muscle pain and fatigue, so you can get moving again—for a review published in Frontiers in Physiology in 2021.
Risks or side effects of CBD
CBD is safe for most people, but not for everyone. For example, if you have low blood pressure, large amounts could make you lightheaded or dizzy, says Bissex. And while many people swear by CBD for sleep, some find it leads to vivid dreams, which may be due to deeper REM sleep, he adds. Other than that, side effects like fatigue, nausea, upset stomach and loss of appetite are usually mild and short-lived, according to Mayo Clinic — which might make you uncomfortable enough to eat less, but that’s not a healthy or recommended strategy. High doses can cause liver damage, according to the FDA. CBD can also interact with certain drugs, especially blood thinners and thyroid medications Harvard Health Publishing. So, if you’re thinking about trying CBD, talk to your doctor first.
What you need to know if you want to try CBD for weight loss
Despite the buzz online and on social media, CBD experts aren’t getting the hype. “People ask about CBD for all kinds of things, but weight loss is not a common indication,” says Grinspoon.
If you’re still curious, look for the highest quality product available. “Avoid the cheaper CBD isolate products that may be sold at your local gas station or convenience store,” says Bissex. “These do not have the synergy of the different components of the plant.” Instead, he recommends organically grown broad-spectrum or full-spectrum CBD. “Full-spectrum products contain all components of the plant, including a small amount (less than 0.3 percent) of THC, while broad-spectrum contains all components with zero THC,” he explains.
Should You Try CBD For Weight Loss? Not based on current research, but stay tuned. In the meantime, there are far more powerful and proven weight management strategies, namely a healthy diet and exercise.