Medical Marijuana and Eating Disorders Such as Anorexia
Those who have developed anorexia due to medications or treatments that reduce the appetite or those who no longer have an appetite due to long periods of restricting food can benefit greatly from the use of medical marijuana. Cannabis is an effective and safe way to increase appetite. Studies done by Columbia University show that cannabis with a high THC content increased the caloric intake of those patients undergoing HIV treatment.
Medical marijuana can also have a beneficial effect on the brains of those suffering from anorexia. Cannabis attaches to receptors in the endocannabinoid system in the human body. This system regulates feelings of pleasure and mood as well as appetite. Studies have shown that the endocannabinoid systems of those suffering from anorexia are malfunctioning and that the use of cannabis can improve function and reduce the symptoms of the disease.
Effects of Anorexia
Anorexia is a potentially life-threatening eating disorder. Signs and symptoms include an irrational fear of gaining weight, a compulsion to lose weight even if it is not necessary, a very low body mass index, a compulsion to over-exercise, restricting food to an unhealthy degree, and a distortion in body image. Some who have anorexia also suffer from bulimia, which involves the voluntary purging of food.
Eating disorders such as anorexia usually start when an individual is a pre-teen, teen, or young adult and most commonly affect females. There are some risk factors for developing anorexia including genetics, anxiety disorders, a perfectionist personality, culture, social attitudes promoting thin body types, and a negative self-image. Peer and family pressure to be thin can also be a contributing factor to developing eating disorders. Anorexia can also be the product of medication or drugs, especially those used to treat cancer or HIV, viral hepatitis, and congestive heart failure. These medications can result in the loss of appetite and may lead to wasting syndrome (cachexia).
In addition to being thinner than what is healthy, other signs of anorexia include dizziness, fatigue, dehydration, and a tendency to feel cold. Menstrual cycles may become irregular or stop completely, hair may thin, and the sufferer may be overly sad, irritable, or anxious.
What Symptoms of Anorexia Does Medical Marijuana Treat?
As noted above, medical cannabis can stimulate the metabolism and increase appetite in those who have a reduced appetite due to food restriction or medical therapies. Marijuana is also helpful for those who are recovering from anorexia as it helps them re-establish a healthy appetite and combat many of the associated emotions of recovery including anxiety and depression.
Those who have anorexia often have related emotional and mental struggles such as trouble sleeping, inability to relax, and decreased desire for or enjoyment of hobbies or other activities they once liked. Marijuana can have a positive effect on mood and stress and help those who are actively suffering from anorexia and those in recovery live a happier, more fulfilling life. Marijuana can also assist in repairing the endocannabinoid function in the brain and treat many of the symptoms of anorexia in this manner.
Types of Marijuana Treatments That Can Be used to Treat Anorexia Symptoms
There are many different types of medical marijuana and ways of using it. Choosing one that is right for the patient is an important part of the treatment plan for those with anorexia. The two different types of cannabis strains are indica and sativa. Indica strains tend to have a whole-body sedating effect and are used to treat conditions like anxiety, insomnia, and chronic pain. Sativa strains, on the other hand, have energy-boosting properties and have been proven effective in treating nausea, depression, headaches, and lack of appetite.
If the most distressing of anorexia symptoms involve lack of energy, depression, and lack of appetite, a sativa strain may be the best choice. If symptoms include anxiety and inability to sleep or high levels of stress, an indica strain is likely the better option. For those who have both types of symptoms, a hybrid strain of both sativa and indica is a good choice.
Though the most common way of using medical marijuana is by smoking it, there are many other options now available. Cannabis can be taken as a pill, ingested as an oil, used as a topical, vaped, or eaten in the form of gummies, mints, or baked into brownies. Choosing the right form of marijuana is an individual decision and could also be determined by what is legal in the state in which they live.
Marijuana and Anorexia: Possible Side Effects
Medical marijuana has very few side effects. However, there is a slight chance for psychological dependence, a concern for those who have substance abuse issues. Substance abuse commonly co-occurs with eating disorders, so those who have addiction issues may want to avoid cannabis. Even if cannabis is an effective treatment option, it’s important for those with anorexia not to use it as the sole form of treatment. Treatment for anorexia and other eating disorders should also include counseling, nutritional monitoring, and other forms of therapy that target self-esteem, confidence, and developing a healthy body image.