You might have come across online forums or heard chatter about vaping for weight loss. After all, there have been reports of less weight gain and appetite stimulation in cannabis smokers. But vaping exclusively to shed weight? For those looking for a yes or no answer, the truth is: It’s complicated.
This article unpacks the science behind appetite suppression, weight management, and vaping. Keep reading to learn how it all depends on what you’re vaping (nicotine vs. cannabis), whether or not you’re a former cigarette smoker, metabolism, and hormones.
Can you lose weight by vaping?
Understanding the perceived weight loss effects of cannabis vs. nicotine can help us further dissect this question:
Known colloquially as “carts,” cannabis cartridges contain THC/CBD oil and connect to a 510 thread battery. Everyone vapes for different reasons. Some people vape cannabis recreationally or medicinally.
Researchers know that people who use cannabis often have a lower body mass index than nonusers, despite the widespread belief that “stoners” eat more because of “the munchies.” The underlying mechanism behind this inverse relationship may have to do with:
- How often you consume cannabis (infrequent vs. daily use)
- Secondary appetite suppression from other substances (narcotics/stimulants/alcohol)
- Competition between food and drugs for reward sites in the brain
But if your intention for vaping cannabis is weight loss, you should know that research has yet to investigate this trend on a clinical level. Stronger evidence supports the use of e-cigarettes for weight loss, but there are some caveats to consider before drawing any conclusions.
Nicotine From E-Cigarettes
Weight management is one reason why adolescents use e-cigarettes, according to survey reports from a 2020 study published in Addictive Behaviors. There is some speculation that social media contributes to weight-motivated vaping, but it could also be related to body image concerns.
Circling back to the question about weight loss, nicotine has known appetite-suppressant effects. It also slows down metabolism. This explains why people put on weight once they quit nicotine. In fact, higher rates of obesity in America are now being attributed to declines in smoking rates.
Due to the nicotine content in vapes, there may be an association between vaping and weight loss for this reason. Survey reports in adult populations reveal that, unlike adolescents, however, e-cigarettes aren’t as widely used for their perceived weight loss benefits. In this demographic, the primary motivator for vaping has more to do with smoking cessation/nicotine replacement therapy than anything else.
Many people aren’t aware of the appetite-suppressant effects of nicotine from cigarettes, let alone e-liquids, a phenomenon that researchers point out in this 2020 observational study. At this time, there’s not enough research to say definitively whether vaping encourages weight loss or not.
What about e-cigs that don’t have nicotine? People who enjoy nicotine-free carts are known as “cloud chasers,” a term that describes the recreational act of blowing out large puffs of vapor. Given the lack of clinical research on nicotine vapes, the possibilities for weight loss are less clear with the nicotine-free versions.
Interestingly, a 2022 experimental study in animals compared the independent effects of a high-fat diet vs. nicotine-free vapes. The findings suggest that short-term use of nicotine-free vapor induces more of a systemic inflammatory response than long-term exposure to a high-fat diet.
Why does this matter? Individuals with obesity already have low-grade inflammation. Research hasn’t addressed the long-term impact of vaping on obesity or co-occurring chronic inflammatory diseases. Despite the marketed idea that nicotine-free vapes are “safer,” there are still a lot of unknowns about some of the ingredients added to flavor carts.
Does vaping make you lose your appetite?
It can, but again, it depends on what you’re vaping. As we’ve explained, nicotine suppresses appetite because of its effect on reward centers in the brain. That means that if you’re vaping a cartridge with nicotine, you may be able to resist cravings in-between meals. This doesn’t mean you should pick up e-cigs as a part of your diet plan. Adolescents tend to be more vulnerable to this rationale than other demographics. In the end, committed diet and lifestyle changes are key to weight management.
On the other hand, vaping cannabis stimulates appetite because of its effect on the “hunger hormone” (i.e., ghrelin). The resulting “munchies” is what commonly causes intense cravings for sweet and salty things. To learn more about this biological process, dive into the endocannabinoid system here.
Another interesting finding from a small 2020 clinical study suggests that long-term cannabis use has a beneficial (indirect) effect on insulin production. Although it’s too soon to say how it works, we know that cannabis receptors affect metabolic hormones tied to appetite control. Translation: THC could make you really hungry, but CBD (still cannabis) may keep you from overeating.
Does vaping cause belly fat?
If you’re a former smoker who vapes, you may be prolonging quitting due to worry about subsequent weight gain (fact: people who quit smoking often gain 8 to 11 pounds within the first year). Vaping, though, doesn’t necessarily cause weight gain, but it’s possible to overeat, especially if you’re vaping cannabis.
Vaping may have a lower perceived risk compared to cigarettes, but remember to be cautious of products purchased on the black market. Young people should also understand the risk of e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injuries.
Finally, vaping is associated with an elevated risk of eating disorder symptoms in college-aged adults. Those who have a history of disordered eating may want to avoid vaping because of its appetite-suppressant effects.