Some facts to face before voting on Prop. 19


Dude, put down the bong and the microwave burrito and groove to what I’m putting down. If a hot-looking, healthy and high-performance body sounds righteous, then realize that the weed is harshing up your ability to snag that prize.

I’m not going to be a downer on anyone’s choice of, you know, lifestyle. And being that I’m in Canada, I have no personal stake in the outcome of California’s Proposition 19, the ballot measure that would make pot legal (though subject to some restrictions). I just want to relay some facts about how marijuana and a healthy lifestyle — and especially weight loss and weight maintenance — can be mutually exclusive.

First, let’s look at the most obvious point, and that’s what I call the munchie factor. This is the biological process that can make a convenience store hot dog taste good. Dr. Uberto Pagotta, an endocrinologist at the University of Bologna in Italy, has conducted extensive research on this subject. In a 2006 article in the International Journal of Obesity, he reported that when the endocannabinoid system in the brain is chronically activated by an outside source, like pot smoking, the result is that people can become obese due to “a permanent hyperphagia” — a scientific term for an overwhelming desire to pig out. I can already envision his next experiment, involving a big bag of weed and an endless supply of Domino’s pizza.


Two years later, in the Journal of Neuroendocrinology, Pagotta discussed how “visceral obesity seems to be a condition in which an overactivation of the endocannabinoid system occurs.” Translated into plain English, this means chronic pot-smoking can lead to more of that dangerous fat that accumulates around the organs.


As a testament to the strength of the connection, pharmaceutical companies like Merck & Co. have developed “anti”-cannabinoids that work as powerful appetite suppressants to control obesity. But the drug makers have largely given up on trials due to the inconvenient side effects of such drugs, which include depression and anxiety.

Double bummer.

The bottom line is that if your goal is to eat healthfully and lose weight, weed makes it hard to resist not just eating junk food but also overeating junk food.

Now let’s talk about the lung punch.

When you toke, you’re not some Liberace impersonator gently puffing on an extra-light menthol in a diamond-studded cigarette holder. You’re going all-out on that bad boy and holding your smoke. Afterward, you feel ready to cough up the crazy cat lady from “The Simpsons.”

Does this make you feel like going for a run?

What’s more, in a 2007 study in the European Journal of Cardio-Thoracic Surgery, Swiss researchers said that “known consequences of habitual marijuana smoking include an increased prevalence of chronic cough, sputum production, and wheeze, as well as a higher frequency of acute bronchitis.”

Tell me that doesn’t impede athletic performance. I’d wager good money that most marathoners aren’t tokers, because they don’t want their lungs rasping like an asthmatic Darth Vader at a Cypress Hill concert.


Of course, it doesn’t stop there. There’s also the motivation factor — or, more accurately, the lack of motivation factor. The typical pot-smoker doesn’t light up and then head to the gym or a spinning class. I’m not sure about yoga.

When people get high, they’re more likely to plaster their butts onto the couch and watch reruns of “America’s Funniest Home Videos.” Oh, and don’t forget the part about dialing the pizza joint that has the easiest-to-remember phone number.

But it goes beyond that. Chronic use of the ganja has an overall adverse effect on motivation to exercise and just plain-old look after oneself. Researchers from Harvard Medical School’s psychiatry department explained in a 2003 article in Psychological Medicine that a significant majority of heavy users reported a “negative effect” on cognition, memory, career, social life, physical health and mental health. I’m pretty sure a person with all those deficits is less likely to be a regular exerciser, and exercise is an important component of reaching and maintaining a healthy weight.

But what if you are a marijuana-smoking workout warrior? It is possible to be both a pothead and a fitness buff, but there are a couple of warnings that come with this.

The first is that it might make your heart decide to pack it in for good.

Researchers at the Institute for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston reported in a 2001 issue of Circulation that “the risk of myocardial infarction onset” — that’s a fancy term for heart attack— “was elevated 4.8 times over baseline … in the 60 minutes after marijuana use.” This is due to a dramatic spike in blood pressure combined with a reduction in the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity. So if you’re the type of person who likes to smoke up and then engage in intense activity, you’re putting yourself at greater risk of a heart attack.

And secondly, let’s actually talk about that reduced ability to perform. Do you toke and cycle, surf or ski? When your brain is focused on how awesome “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” really is, that car, coral reef or cliff is coming at you mighty fast.


Talk about a bad trip, man. Even if you don’t crash, the less-than-stellar effort means fewer calories burned and decreased positive adaptations in terms of fitness and physical performance.

I’m not out to proselytize; my only goal is to provide information that allows you to make an informed choice. I didn’t even get into the lung cancer and schizophrenia stuff.

If you are a regular user and you’re battling your weight, this information could give you the impetus to make an important lifestyle change. Maybe the next time your smoking buddies call up to see if you want to blast through a big fattie, order pizza and have a Halo marathon or watch kittens play with yarn, you’ll just tell them, “Dave’s not here, man.”

Finally, if you or someone else in your household needs a reminder of the detrimental effects of marijuana, then consider taking this article and taping it to the fridge. Better yet, put it inside the freezer.

Right on top of the Hot Pockets.

Fell is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada.