Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by abnormally low body weight and body dysmorphia, a distorted body image. Individuals suffering from anorexia are stuck in a repeating cycle of self-starvation or purging food because they have an extreme fear of gaining weight. Their obsession with their weight, and what they eat disrupts their life and negatively affects their health. This distorted body image also has a negative effect on the person’s self-esteem.
Anorexia is a psychological eating disorder caused by a mix of genetic, environmental, and psychological
factors. Anorexia may be associated with a stressful life event, a lack of support, or weight-based
teasing that the individual has experienced. A perceived lack of control in one’s life may be a trigger, so
an anorexic may assert control in their life through the controlling of food intake. Trying to maintain weight for a sport or activity may be a trigger for athletes that become anorexics. The rising numbers of female patients with anorexia may, in part, also be due to the constant exposure to societal or Hollywood beauty standards which utilize heavy filters, which drive need to achieve an unrealistic ideal of the female body type.
There are two types of Anorexia: restriction of how much one eats, and bulimic, where food is binge eaten and then purged. The restrictor individuals starve themselves primarily by limiting their intake of food and missing meals. The unrealistic perception of their body image may also drive them to exercise too frequently. The bulimic individuals induce vomiting to purge any food eaten, use laxatives, as well as appetite suppressants to curb appetite in order to keep their weight in check.
Anorexics are predominantly grossly underweight with respect to their age and gender, but they
consider themselves to be fat or overweight. Although men and women of any age can suffer with anorexia, it’s most common in young women and typically starts during adolescence. Youth with anorexia may not meet developmental weight gain milestones so their height and weight will be below normal; and adults will have an uncharacteristically low BMI, Body Mass Index.
The extreme weight loss can create a cascade of physical problems. Long-term starvation depletes the
body of its essential nutrients, so the first organ to be affected is the brain. Anorexics may be fatigued,
lethargic, and irritable. They may have difficulty sleeping which may lead to erratic thoughts, and an
inability to concentrate. After depletion of the body’s fat stores, patients begin to waste as muscle is
broken down for energy. The malnutrition will affect growth; therefore, these patients have a frail, thin
appearance with thinning hair which may fall out. Hormonal imbalance is common in chronic anorexics,
with adolescent girls even missing their period.
The constant vomiting leads to gastroesophageal reflux, persistent stomach discomfort, and bacterial
infections. The induced vomiting can erode teeth and the lining of the esophagus causing bleeding. Anorexia may even damage the heart. The starvation can create dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, and irregular heart rhythms which may cause dizziness and fainting spells. Intolerance of cold can be a symptom of low blood pressure common in this disease.
Typical symptoms of those suffering from Anorexia include:
- A refusal to eat or denial of hunger
- Skipping meals
- Developing feeding rituals
- Obsession with food preparation
- Spitting food out after chewing
- Repeatedly stepping on the scale to check weight
- Lying about the amount of food eaten
- Hiding food
How can Medical Marijuana Help Patients with Anorexia Nervosa?
Cannabis may be an effective treatment option for treating the psychological symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa. A study published in the Israel Journal of Psychiatry studied the effects of marijuana on the psychological symptoms of Anorexia Nervosa, and concluded that THC significantly improved self- reported body care, sense of ineffectiveness, and depression.
Research discovered that the endocannabinoid system in women with anorexia and bulimia was
significantly underactive. THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis, has many physiological effects on the body, one of which is increased appetite. Cannabis may be used to treat anorexia patients because THC stimulates the brain’s endocannabinoid system to trigger heightened feelings of hunger.