**Warning: This content may be triggering to some readers**
Appetite disorders are complex conditions, presenting treatment challenges for both doctors and the patients that suffer from them. While controversial, some feel that medical cannabis might be a helpful tool in some appetite disorder cases.
More than 30 million Americans will suffer from some form of eating disorder in their lifetime. Common eating disorders include:
Binge Eating: The most common eating disorder in the United States, binging is marked by uncontrolled eating beyond the point of feeling full or discomfort. Binges are often followed by feelings of guilt and shame and can lead to obesity.
Bulimia Nervosa: This is binge eating with subsequent purges that may involve self-induced vomiting, laxatives, or compensation behaviors such as fasting or over-exercising.
Anorexia Nervosa: Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental disorder. Sufferers feel they are overweight even when dangerously underweight and may impose severe food restrictions on themselves.
THC and Appetite
When we talk about cannabis and our appetites, the first thing that typically comes to mind is the phenomenon called “the munchies”. The powerful appetite-boosting effect that many users feel after medicating with cannabis has been well-documented both scientifically and anecdotally.
The cannabinoid best known for its psychoactive properties, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), works by stimulating the endocannabinoid system, an area of the brain that regulates eating behavior and energy balance. Evidence suggests the body’s endocannabinoid system plays an essential role in signaling rewarding events, such as eating or restricting. Our brains produce natural cannabinoids that fit into these same receptors, so by mimicking their activity, THC can alter the same factors.
Here’s what we know about THC and appetite:
- THC enhances our sensitivity to smell, making aromas from food more potent. Because scent and taste are closely related, THC may cause better taste flavors as well.
- A 2015 research study discovered that neurons which normally turn off when eating are stimulated when THC is used, causing increased food consumption. Scientists think neurons that typically control your level of satiety might be blocked when THC is introduced.
- THC interacts with the receptors in the hypothalamus, leading to release of the hormone ghrelin, stimulating sweet and fatty food cravings. THC also causes a dopamine release, which can enhance your enjoyment of eating.
- THC may also work to improve the gut biome. A study on animals from the University of Calgary studied obese mice. The mice were put on a high-calorie diet and given THC. Their gut bacteria levels normalized, and they stopped gaining weight.
- THC may work to improve insulin control, regulate body weight and perhaps explain why cannabis users have a lower incidence of diabetes.
CBD and Appetite
Unlike the more widely legal non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD), THC is the mechanism in cannabis that interacts with appetite. CBD may boost appetite in a different way, though. CBD might help relieve nausea and calm the nervous system and digestive tract. If you feel less nauseated, you may feel like eating more. Researchers believe that CBD is among the important cannabinoids that affect appetite, metabolism, and other weight-related body functions.
Beyond experiencing illness, a person’s mood, emotions, and lifestyle all affect whether or not they want to eat, as well as the kinds of foods they crave. Using CBD regularly can affect these factors.
While little research exists on medical marijuana specifically for eating disorder treatment, cannabis is often implemented as an appetite stimulant for those with other serious medical conditions. It certainly has the potential to boost appetite in those with anorexia nervosa, who are often not in touch with their natural hunger cues.
One study reported that medicating with cannabis might increase caloric intake in normal subjects by as much as 40 percent. THC, the primary chemical compound present in marijuana, stimulated metabolism and, in this study, contributed to increased snacking in both social and private settings.
Cachexia (Wasting Syndrome)
Cachexia is different from anorexia nervosa. Anorexia describes an aversion to food. The term “cachexia” refers to a loss of body mass, including lean body mass and fat, in the setting of a disease state, in this case cancer.
The causes of cachexia can be related to the disease itself, to the treatment, or sometimes the emotional stress of the disease. In many cases, cachexia occurs as part of cancer treatment.
In recent years, researchers have gradually found that cannabinoids have potential applications as a supportive cancer therapy as well as in palliative care.
THCV and Other Indications Such as Weight Loss
Strains that contain the cannabinoid THCV may dull the appetite. While this may be good for diet-conscious consumers focused on weight loss, THCV should be avoided by patients treating appetite loss or anorexia.
Medical marijuana should only be used as a complementary tool in treating appetite disorders after consulting with your care team. As with any medication, medical cannabis should be used in conjunction with therapy and nutritional monitoring.
If you’re looking to try cannabis for a condition that affects your weight, Duber Medical can help. Schedule an appointment today.
Author: Gabrielle Dion Visca
Gabrielle has been writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries for more than 20 years. She’s held positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop. She currently writes articles about medical marijuana for Duber Medical, and is the founder of the Ohio cannabis journalism non-profit, MedicateOH.