Can Cannabinoids Treat Anorexia?

It is common knowledge that ingesting cannabis can cause “the munchies.” A lot of research has been done on the effects of cannabis on cachexia (malnutrition) associated with HIV/AIDS and cancer. Not much research has been done on its effects on anorexia nervosa, specifically. But if hemp-derived cannabinoids can stimulate appetite and make eating pleasurable for someone suffering from anorexia, it follows that we should responsibly explore how this natural medicine could help treat anorexia.

About Anorexia Nervosa

Clinically, anorexia nervosa is a “serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by starvation and excessive weight loss.” Extremely low body weight, dysmorphia, excessive counting of calories and excessive need to control one’s environment are all frequent and occur among sufferers. Individuals base their self-worth on their body size, shape and weight, and do not easily find pleasure in activities that most people joyfully partake in.

Causes of Anorexia

Looking at history, it is believed that anorexia is caused by sociocultural factors such as family members’ attitudes toward the slim body shape and childhood trauma. However, recent evidence shows that neurobiological and genetic factors also play a role.

The Effects of Cannabis on Anorexia

It may seem obvious that cannabis could play a role in the treatment of anorexia. After all, it is widely known that cannabis initiates the munchies and also acts as an appetite stimulant for those suffering from HIV and cancer. However, looking critically at anorexia nervosa, there are very few studies on the effects of cannabis. Because states have been slow to legalize medical marijuana and cannabinoids, and the federal government has been reluctant to allow funding for the research of the medical effects of cannabinoids, research is limited. Many states that have legalized CBDhave only done so for specific diseases that have been persistently advocated for and that have some research-driven results about the effects of CBD on those particular diseases.

Re-regulation of the ECS for Anorexia Patients

Looking at the existing studies and anecdotal evidence, there is little doubt that cannabis could be a very effective treatment for anorexia. The regulating of the endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a major role in treating anorexia, and cannabinoids play a major role in establishing that regulation.

The ECS is comprised of cell receptors and their corresponding endocannabinoid molecules. Endocannabinoids and their receptors are present all over the body. They can be found in the brain, organs, glands, immune cells, and connective tissues. The ECS performs a different task in each tissue. However, the goal remains the same – homeostasis. And this is precisely why cannabinoids have so many health benefits and are able to treat so many diseases and disorders.

A Belgian study conducted in 2011 has suggested that “because dysfunctional regulation and underlying imbalances within the endocannabinoid system are prominent across eating disorders, developing cannabinoid-derived treatments (targeting the endocannabinoid system) could prove therapeutically valuable.” It is believed that cannabinoids could help correct deficiencies of the ECS while facilitating the return of the individual to a healthy state.

Cannabinoids Stimulate the Appetite

Neuroscientists in Europe, in 2014, conducted an animal study, explaining why cannabis, specifically, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), could effectively treat anorexia. People who suffer from anorexia cannot find pleasure in performing any activity, no matter how fun it may be, and this includes eating. Researchers discovered the mechanism through which THC activates the CB1 receptor of the endocannabinoid system. It is known that the activation elevates pleasure in eating, by increasing sensitivity to taste and smell.

Luckily, there is now encouraging data that has been provided by a human study. The study, conducted by the Center for Eating Disorders at the Odense University Hospital in Denmark, examined the effects of synthetic THC (dronabinol) and placebo on 25 subjects. It was discovered that the treatment was well tolerated with very few adverse effects. The subjects were followed up with a year after commencement of treatment, and patients who took a serious part in the study had their symptoms improved while showing no signs of addiction or withdrawal issues.

In Conclusion

Though studies on the effects of cannabinoids on anorexia are limited, there is evidence that cannabinoids strongly influence appetite. Like many diseases and disorders, anorexia requires treatment that addresses the imbalance within the individual. Cannabinoids work through the ECS to re-regulate and bring back a patent’s inner homeostasis.

People who suffer from debilitating diseases deserve access to and education about the benefits of cannabinoids. And researchers and health care providers deserve the resources to study the results so that they may understand how they may be used and recommend them with confidence.    

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