University of Toronto researcher looks at cannabinoids to treat obesity

University of Toronto research is exploring whether nabilone – a synthetic cannabinoid drug – can reduce body weight in adults with obesity.

Forget the pop-culture stereotype of weed-fuelled munchies. A University of Toronto researcher is exploring whether cannabinoids could be effective against obesity.

Justin Matheson, a post-doctoral research fellow in the Translational Addiction Research Laboratory at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, is leading a randomized controlled trial of 60 people between 25 and 45 years old, exploring if nabilone – a synthetic cannabinoid drug – can reduce body weight in adults with obesity.

While the hypothesis might seem counterintuitive, Matheson, one of the inaugural cohort of the Toronto Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research Consortium (TC3) fellows, notes that previous research has found that “people who use cannabis regularly actually have lower BMI, lower risk of obesity and a lower of risk of diabetes then people who don’t use cannabis.”

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Nabilone is similar to THC, the active component of cannabis, but structurally different, Matheson says. Study participants will receive an oral capsule daily for 12 weeks featuring a high dose of nabilone, a low dose, or a placebo.

Matheson’s current research follows his doctoral thesis looking at sex and gender and how they impact cannabis use.

Beyond trying to see if the cannabinoid drug can reduce body weight in obese adults, researchers will also try to understand why by using neuroimaging, measuring changes in the gut microbiome, and measuring cannabinoids in the blood and different hormones.

“Research has found that people with obesity tend to have higher levels of endocannabinoids, which are the body’s own cannabinoid compounds. We believe that taking nabilone, or any cannabinoid drug, over a period of time might disrupt endocannabinoid levels, which could be one way that nabilone leads to a reduction in body weight,” Matheson says.

“The endocannabinoid system – which is the body’s innate system that underlies the effects of cannabinoids – is a system that is very much involved in all sorts of brain processes such as our perceptions of pleasure and reward. So, we think it’s possible our research might find that nabilone reduces participants’ responses to food images, which is why we’re doing neuroimaging of participants’ brains.”

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