Medical marijuana and the treatment of eating disorders
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It’s nothing new that cannabis stimulates the appetite. What, you never get the munchies? This effect from cannabis, along with its many other medicinal and psychological benefits, is a good enough reason to wonder about the effectiveness of cannabis for treating eating disorders. Could marijuana help with the treatment of eating disorders like anorexia?
UNDERSTANDING EATING DISORDERS
There are several types of eating disorders with anorexia (anorexia nervosa) probably the most known one. Other types of eating disorders are bulimia nervosa and binge eating. What all of these eating disorders have in common is dramatic weight loss for the sufferer usually going together with a fear of gaining weight, a poor body image and an aversion to food.
It is noteworthy to mention that about 95% of cases of anorexia and other eating disorders are among young females. Medicinal experts agree that the underlying factors for eating disorders can often be psychological but there can be additional physiological elements playing a role as well.
A higher risk to develop an eating disorder can sometimes be inherited, but they can also come about due to traumatic experiences or because of certain underlying mental conditions.
COMMON TYPES OF EATING DISORDERS
Anorexia is a serious health condition where the sufferer is undergoing self-starvation up the point of life-threatening weight loss. This condition normally comes with an intense fear of gaining weight, an irrational sense of feeling overweight and with being excessively concerned about their body image.
Those suffering from anorexia are sometimes also purging as a way to get rid of food they consumed. The quality of life of those who suffer from anorexia and their ability to partake in the activities of daily life is often severely diminished.
Bulimia is similar to anorexia as dramatic weight-loss is at the center of the condition. But with bulimia, there is a stronger focus on binge eating and food purging. Those who suffer from Bulimia Nervosa are often indulging in excessive eating followed by purging (vomiting). Laxatives, enemas and excessive exercising are also often used as ways to get rid of food and calories.
Binge Eating Disorder (BED)
Compulsive overeating (binge eating) happens when a person has an uncontrollable addiction to eating food. Binge eaters indulge in consuming vast amounts of foods beyond of them feeling full. The binge is usually followed by excessive fasting and dieting out of a feeling of guilt. The difference to bulimia is that binge eating by itself doesn’t involve the forced purging of food.
CANNABIS AND EATING DISORDERS: WHAT DOES THE SCIENCE SAY?
Cannabis is already being used as an appetite stimulant for those who suffer from AIDS, cancer and other illnesses. Eating disorders like anorexia however normally have quite different underlying causes. A Belgian study that had been conducted in 2011 suggests a link between eating disorders and the function of the endocannabinoid system in the human body.
According to the findings, treating eating disorders with cannabis can potentially be valuable as the endocannabinoid system might play a role in the rewarding properties of food. Due to the small sample size used for this particular study, more research in this field is necessary.
Another recent promising study, although only done with a smaller number of participants at the University Hospital in Denmark, appears to give yet more evidence on the effectiveness of cannabis for treating anorexia. Some test subjects received synthetic THC (Dronabinol), while others received a placebo. The study found that the patients who were given the synthetic THC gained more weight than those who received the placebo.
When the researchers followed up on the participants after one year of treatment they found their symptoms greatly improved without any adverse effects. Although these studies are quite limited in their scope, it is reasonable to assume that cannabis can be an effective treatment for anorexia and other eating disorders.
OTHER WAYS CANNABIS CAN HELP WITH EATING DISORDERS
Despite the mounting evidence for the endocannabinoid system playing a central role in eating disorders, their causes, and their potential treatment, there are even more ways in how cannabis can be beneficial for those suffering from eating disorders.
Think for instance about how cannabis can have positive psychological effects on a person and how this might help to tackle eating disorders at the underlying roots, which in most cases are psychological factors.
CANNABIS BOOSTS THE APPETITE
The psychoactive compound in cannabis THC increases the production of ghrelin. Ghrelin is a growth hormone that is also known as “the hunger hormone”. In other words: Cannabis can make you feel hungry. As we mentioned above, there is a link between the endocannabinoid system and anorexia as our bodies can produce mood-improving compounds that make you happy from foods that contain healthy fats like Omega-3.
This means that snacking on valuable foods after smoking cannabis can improve your mood with potential benefits as long as these foods contain those fats. Good examples of valuable foods, in this case, are: veggies, fruits, nuts and full-fat yogurt.
A BOOST OF DOPAMINE MAKES YOU LOVE EATING
The avoidance of food if not an outright fear of it, is just one of the symptoms of eating disorders. Cannabis can give you a feeling of pleasure and reward because it boosts dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter known as the chemical “reward messenger” in our body.
When smoking weed, the sensations of pleasure and reward are greatly intensified which can help with getting rid of the fear of eating and the feeling of guilt afterward.
CANNABIS HELPS YOU RELAX
Cannabis has been shown to be very effective when coping with traumatic experiences or simply as a mood enhancer that can help with stress and general anxiety. For people with dramatic experiences who as a result may have developed an eating disorder, cannabis can help them relax and put their minds at ease.
As people suffering from eating disorders are many times also plagued by obsessive and recurring thought patterns, cannabis can also here provide relaxing relief and therapeutic value.
CANNABIS AND THE FUTURE OF TREATING EATING DISORDERS
The above scientific studies suggest a clear link between eating disorders and the endocannabinoid system and this could mean that cannabis may well be the key to treating eating disorders. Anorexia is already a qualifying condition under many state medical marijuana programs in the US, including those of California, Maryland, New Mexico and Washington.
Hopefully, future research will shed more light on the relationship between the many different compounds of cannabis and their effect on our endocannabinoid system and how this can help treating eating disorders.
Note: We have taken the utmost care and precaution whilst writing this article. That being said, please take note of the fact that we are not medical professionals of any kind. Cannabis.info is strictly a news and information website. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.