60-Second Science

Natural Pot-Like Compound Could Fight Obesity

A study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds that endocannabinoids, compounds naturally found in the body related to pot's active ingredient, could inform the effort to control appetite. Cynthia Graber reports

Could there be a substance that both gives us the munchies and can help combat obesity? There may indeed be, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Monell Center in Pennsylvania partnered with Kyushu University in Japan to study compounds called endocannabinoids. These occur naturally in our body and are similar to THC, the compound primarily responsible for marijuana’s psychoactive effects.

Researchers studied endocannabinoids in mice, and they say that the chemicals have a one-two punch—in your brain, they increase your appetite. And on your tongue, they enhance the response to sweet flavors. The compounds had no effect on salty, sour, bitter or umami tasting.

It turns out that sweetness receptors are present in the same cells as cannabinoid receptors on our tongues. But how could such an effect contribute to combating obesity? According to the scientists, there are similar sweet receptors in hormone-producing cells in the intestine and pancreas. There, they affect metabolism and the absorption of nutrients. Scientists say that if endocannabinoids also act on those receptors it could lead to new compounds to moderate metabolism. Which might stop the development of the pot belly.

—Cynthia Graber

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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