Legalizing Marijuana Associated With Lower Obesity Rates, New Study Finds

Like many marijuana myths, the one that associates using cannabis with gaining weight (mostly because of the munchies) does not hold water under scientific scrutiny. A new study has found lower obesity rates actually dropped in one U.S. state that legalized marijuana.

Washington, one of the first states to legalize adult-use marijuana, experienced a decrease in statewide obesity rates, according to research published in the journal Health Economics. The study, which has the memorable title of “Cloudy with a chance of munchies: Assessing the impact of recreational marijuana legalization on obesity,” came from researchers at North Dakota State University and Metropolitan State University.

They reached their conclusion after studying obesity rates in Washington state from 2002 to 2018. “We find that recreational marijuana’s introduction did not lead to increased obesity rates and may have led to decreases in obesity,” they wrote.

What Happened in Washington After 2014?

Washington state began legal cannabis sales in 2014 after voters approved the change. In addition to looking at data within the state for changes, the researchers also looked at the obesity rate in other states to compare against what happened in Washington.

They found that the presence of recreational dispensaries led to lower obesity rates. They found that the obesity rate ran an average of 5.4 percent less than the obesity rate would have been without legal adult-use marijuana, based on a “counterfactually constructed” model of the state’s expected obesity rate.

The authors wrote that their findings proved “somewhat surprising given previous literature finding marijuana use is often associated with increased unhealthy food consumption and lethargy.”

The authors wrote that further investigation into the issue is warranted because obesity in the U.S. is one of the most significant health epidemics in the past century. The CDC reports that obesity prevalence increased from 30.5 percent to 41.9 percent between 2000 and 2020.

Science Keeps Destroying Marijuana Myths

The Health Economics study on the association between marijuana and lower obesity rates is just the latest in a long line of research that has undermined many marijuana myths, including those made to argue against legalization.

For example, a 2021 study found that marijuana legalization has not led to an increase in crime and accidents, as many predicted would happen. Research has also shown that the average marijuana user is nothing like the stoner couch potato depicted in movies.

On health, a study found that cannabis is not associated with increased risk of heart disease. And in another study done in Washington state, teen use of marijuana actually dropped after legalization. Opponents of legalization raised fears that teen use rates would spike in legal states.

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