How Does Medical Marijuana Help With and Treat Anorexia?

  • How medical marijuana can help some anorexia nervosa patients
  • How cannabinoids and terpenes help to increase appetite and lower anxiety levels
  • Clinical studies that show medical marijuana is safe and effective as a treatment for anorexia nervosa
  • Best medical marijuana strains for treating anorexia nervosa
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It’s logical to assume that patients could use medical marijuana for treating anorexia nervosa. After all, marijuana is known to induce the “munchies” with its innate propensity for appetite enhancement.

In this article, we’ll explore medical marijuana’s role in alleviating the psychiatric distress associated with this devastating eating disorder. Additionally, we’ll examine the appetite-enhancing effects of marijuana, and the compounds believed to have the greatest efficacy in treating anorexia nervosa.

Anorexia nervosa is usually depicted in movies or TV shows as a disorder stemming from a compulsion to be thin. This compulsion, in actuality, occurs frequently in individuals born with a genetic predisposition to myriad eating disorders. Patients diagnosed with anorexia nervosa are often susceptible to invasive thoughts similar to those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

According to a recent report from The National Eating Disorders Associate (NEDA) “two-thirds of those with anorexia show signs of an anxiety disorder (including generalized anxiety, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder) before the onset of their eating disorder.” 

Tragically, this constant state of anxiety tends to exacerbate the symptoms of anorexia nervosa perpetuating a relentless cycle of starvation, social phobias, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

Individuals with bulimia or binge-eating disorder are often able to maintain a normal weight, unlike those ravaged by anorexia nervosa, who often starve to death or expire from heart failure. In fact, out of all the psychiatric disorders, anorexia remains the deadliest with an estimated mortality rate of 10 percent.

How marijuana helps treat anorexia

At present, there isn’t a great deal of research regarding the application of medical marijuana as a viable treatment for anorexia nervosa. However, numerous studies on cachexia (anorexia associated with cancer and HIV/AIDS) have been conducted with encouraging results. 

The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) plays a role in maintaining normal functions in the body. Cannabinoid receptors are abundant in brain regions known to control hunger and food intake. 

Recent clinical evidence indicates a significant link between anorexia nervosa and endocannabinoid deficiencies. Not surprisingly, the ECS plays an important role in controlling and sometimes exacerbating the symptoms of OCD.

When used properly and not abused, medical marijuana has been shown to significantly lower anxiety levels and offer rapid, short-term relief from stress and depression. That is according to an article published in the Journal of Affective Disorders. Furthermore, anxiety and depression are cited among the five top reasons for medical marijuana use in North America.

Recent research has determined that females tend to experience a greater, short-term reduction in anxiety than males with the administration of medical marijuana. Interestingly, when it comes to anorexia nervosa, women are three times more likely to experience anorexia than men.  

Studies have shown that marijuana activates a region of the brain called the insula. The insula regulates emotions and stress and allows eating to be an enjoyable experience. 

Moreover, the application of cannabinoids is known to increase levels of an endocannabinoid called anandamide, believed to control food intake by modulating the reward aspects of eating behaviors.

Marijuana-based treatments may also allow anorexia sufferers with anxiety or OCD to more effectively participate in talk therapy and counseling.

The general consensus is that cannabinoids are far less traumatizing and far more beneficial to the emotional and physical health of the anorexia patient than the insertion of a feeding tube.

Cannabinoids and Terpenes for Anorexia Nervosa:

The physical effects of marijuana come from a combination of cannabinoids and potent aromatic oils known as terpenes. This combined effect is known as the entourage effect. The effects of a strain depend entirely on the balance of cannabinoids and terpenes. 

Cannabis comes in many forms. Some strains are high in phytocannabinoids such as CBD and CBG, others have a high THC content, and some offer a balance of cannabinoids. 

Cannabinoids involved in appetite stimulation and anxiety reduction:

  • CBD is nonintoxicating and known to dramatically reduce the anxiety and depression associated with eating disorders by impacting hormones that regulate mood and appetite. 
  • CBG, which is also non intoxicating, is believed to stimulate appetite as effectively as THC. 
  • THC, when used in low doses, enhances appetite and improves mood.

It’s also important to point out that CBD products derived from hemp can be purchased online without a medical marijuana card.

Terpenes are another class of active compounds produced in marijuana. Far more research is needed to determine the full effects of terpenes produced in marijuana. However, these powerful compounds have exhibited targeted benefits and are an essential part of marijuana’s healing abilities.

Terpenes found in medical marijuana strains that may help relieve the common symptoms of anorexia nervosa:

    • Linalool has a delicate floral aroma found in lavender is known for inducing relaxation, sound sleep, and also for its pain-relieving properties.
    • Limonene has a citrusy scent usually found in citrus fruits. It is known to relieve heartburn, uplift moods, relieve depression and soothe gastrointestinal issues.
    • Myrcene is generally associated with aromas of mango, lemongrass, thyme, and hops. This earthy aroma is believed to produce a soothing effect, relieve muscle tension, and increase the overall effects of THC.

Studies on marijuana and anorexia

The Center for Eating Disorders at Odense University Hospital in Denmark conducted a human study yielding some encouraging information. This relatively small study involved 24 participants suffering from anorexia nervosa. 

Patients in the study were administered a synthetic form of THC called dronabinol. The study indicated that the patients who received the dronabinol gained 1.6 pounds more than the participants given the placebo. 

Overall, the administration of the synthetic THC was well tolerated. One year later, the participants showed continued improvement of both their nutrition intake and general symptoms, with no indication of withdrawal or addiction.

In a 2017 study published in the Israeli Journal of Psychiatry Related Science, researchers concluded that THC “may be an effective component in treating the psychological symptoms of AN (anorexia nervosa).” 

The study was conducted with nine female participants, all suffering from anorexia nervosa. The women were administered 1 to 2 milligrams of THC daily, over the course of four weeks. All nine of the participants reported significant improvements in anxiety and depression, as well as increased self-care.

THC has been the most diligently studied cannabinoid thus far, however, CBG is inching its way into the spotlight. This new study published by the American Health Organization showed that CBG produced no adverse effects. An application of 120-240 mg/kg of CBG more than doubled food intake and increased the number of meals consumed by individuals suffering from anorexia and cachexia. The study indicated that CBG promotes appetite stimulation similarly to THC. 

Best medical marijuana strains for treating anorexia nervosa

The following strains offer a combination of cannabinoids and terpenes listed above that offer benefits to anorexia patients.

  • Sweet and Sour Widow produces a balance of THC and CBD. It is known to be a great appetite enhancer, as well as a pain reliever and sleep inducer.
  • Dutch Treat Haze is known to stimulate appetites and induce relaxation in both mind and body.
  • CBD Yummy is a hybrid with a modest amount of THC. It is popular due to its powerful stress-busting, sedative, and appetite-stimulating effects.
  • Sister is a sweet, citrusy strain that has a distinctive diesel-like aroma. It has a strong taste and is known to be a potent appetite stimulant. 

Best Marijuana Delivery Methods for Anorexia Nervosa

Medical marijuana patients have a range of options when it comes to delivery methods. 

  • Smoking cannabis flower and vaping cannabis oil both offer almost instantaneous relief and induce hunger within minutes.
  • Cannabis-infused edibles (gummies, candies, baked goods) offer additional calories in addition to cannabinoids, although they take up to 90 minutes to take full effect. The effects are often long-lasting.
  • Cannabis tinctures can be taken under the tongue for reasonably fast relief without the detrimental effects of smoking or vaping.

The jury’s still out when it comes to treating anorexia nervosa with medical marijuana. However, a handful of studies seem to support the administration of cannabis for appetite stimulation as well as a significant reduction of anxiety and depression related to this debilitating disease. And anecdotal evidence suggests that many patients suffering from eating disorders have discovered profound relief from medical marijuana in its various forms.

As legalization measures roll out across the U.S., more and more individuals suffering from anorexia nervosa will discover the powerful medicinal benefits of medical marijuana. Hopefully, as this healing herb becomes more readily available it will alleviate the suffering and often tragic consequences of this terrible disorder.

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