If you’ve ever counted calories to lose, gain or maintain weight, and you’re a cannabis consumer, you may have wondered: does weed have calories? Cannabis is an herb that contains various compounds, most prominently cannabinoids and terpenes. but there’s also a lot of fiber, and some nutritional content.
Exploring the caloric content of cannabis
Caloric content is primarily derived from macronutrients such as carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. However, cannabis flowers contain minimal amounts of macronutrients, rendering its caloric contribution negligible, certainly in quantities that are typically eaten.
When examining nutrition in cannabis plants, scientists found the upper parts – the stems, leaves, and flowers – contain some 20% protein, making it a low protein product, but still a viable source. The authors even noted that this amount of protein could make hemp viable for feeding certain farmed animals (like tilapia). 1
These parts of the plant also contain some fats, carbohydrates, fiber and other macronutrients, and deliver about 1.5 calories per gram. So it could be classed as a low-calorie food and a healthy snack – but eating raw cannabis isn’t that easy. It would take a lot of fresh plant material to deliver any significant calories, not to mention a long time chewing. Cannabis leaves contain nearly 50% fiber, and the whole plant (mostly stalks and stems) is estimated at some 82% fiber. It is possible to grind the aerial parts into a plant powder, but again – not so appetizing to the average (human) consumer. 2
Cannabis seeds, however, have been eaten for thousands of years, and are rich in both fat and protein. Delivering the optimal ratio of 1:3 omega- fatty acids and all of the essential amino acids to support a healthy endocannabinoid system, cannabis seeds have been quickly rising in the ranks of some of the most accessible and delicious “superfoods.” 3
Do cannabis consumption methods affect caloric intake?
The way you consume your cannabis is going to play a crucial role in determining the overall caloric intake associated with its use. The two most common methods of cannabis consumption are inhalation and ingestion. Inhaling cannabis – either by smoking or vaping – involves breathing in cannabinoid-rich smoke or vapor, which is absorbed directly by the lungs. Since inhaling cannabis does not involve direct ingestion, it does not contribute to caloric intake.
As we’ve established, the calorie content of weed is negligible, but cannabis-infused edibles, beverages, and oils can contain added ingredients that contribute to caloric content. For instance, baked goods infused with cannabis may have calories from ingredients like flour, sugar, and butter.
Moreover, it is worth noting that cannabis-infused edibles typically undergo a decarboxylation process, wherein heat is applied to activate the cannabinoids. Despite similarities to cooking, this process does not significantly alter the caloric content of the infused product but rather converts inactive compounds in their acid forms (such as THCA) into active forms (such as THC).
Consuming raw weed
Unsurprisingly given the raw food movement, consuming raw cannabis is increasingly common. Cannabis is safe to eat, and the leaves don’t have nearly as many cannabinoids as the female flowers. They are however a source of protein, as discussed above, and contain numerous bioactives like flavonoids and terpenes that could have beneficial properties. 4
Cannabis juicing is becoming a favorite for home growers looking to utilize every part of their precious yield. By juicing the leaves, flowers, and even young stems, you can remove the fiber and capture the nutrition hidden in the plant. This process delivers all the phytonutrients in a concentrated juice, packed with antioxidant flavonoids, terpenes, and acidic cannabinoids.
Cannabis seeds are also rich in nutrition. The seeds inside the shell — commonly called “hemp hearts”— are rich in both protein and fat, and full of important micronutrients like iron, manganese, and zinc. 5
Regulatory considerations and labeling
In jurisdictions where cannabis is legal and regulated, manufacturers are required to provide accurate labeling information on their products. This usually includes disclosing the quantity of cannabinoids present, but not necessarily the caloric content. It’s good practice to refer to the nutritional information of the additional ingredients in cannabis-infused products to assess their overall caloric intake accurately. This is almost always on the back of the package.
Bottom line on calories in weed
While cannabis contains some nominal amounts of macronutrients, its direct caloric contribution is insignificant. The cannabis flowers and leaves can be considered low calorie, while the seeds are rich in nutrition, especially healthy fats. Of course, when cannabis is incorporated into edibles or other infused products, the overall caloric content will depend on the additional ingredients used. There are some healthier edible options emerging in mature markets, as well.