How Cannabis Can Help Those Suffering From Eating Disorders

January 10, 2020 11:14 am ET
How Cannabis Can Help Those Suffering From Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are big problems amongst many people in the world. Anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are two of the leading eating disorders that are plaguing peoples’ lives. Many people dismiss eating disorders when they should be seeking out treatment due to the serious health risks caused by them. Both of these eating disorders are concerned with the weight and shape of their bodies. Let’s have a look at what anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa are and how cannabis can be used to help as a treatment. 

Anorexia Nervosa:

Anorexia nervosa is defined as an eating disorder where the individuals are scared of weight gain and end up becoming dangerously thin. This disorder can be life-threating. It is characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss. If we look at the term anorexia, its literal definition is a loss of appetite. This can be misleading as individuals with this disorder are often hungry but refuse to eat anyway. These individuals have a negative self-image and an intense fear of weight gain despite being underweight. People suffering from this disorder tend to be obsessive, anxious and depressive. 

Common symptoms of anorexia nervosa:

  • Purging: self-induced vomiting for weight control using their finger, laxatives or diuretics. 
  • Obsession with monitoring food and calorie intake as well as dieting. 
  • Changes in mood and emotional states. These changes lead to depression, anxiety, hyperactivity, perfectionism, extreme self-control as well as imbalances in chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and cortisol. 
  • Distorted body image.
  • Excessive exercising.
  • Denial of hunger, refusal to eat and secrecy around purging.
  • Engaging in food rituals such as eating in a certain order, eating slowly, excessive chewing and eating at certain times of the day or in specific places. 
  • Alcohol or drug abuse specifically diet pills.
  • Extreme weight loss. 
  • Fear of weight gain.

Potential health risks: 

  • Cardiac complications such as irregular heartbeats.
  • Heart, kidney and liver failure.
  • Boneloss/osteoporosis.
  • Anemia.
  • Electrolyte imbalances.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Low blood sugar.
  • Constipation, bloating and other gastrointestinal issues.
  • Fertility changes.
  • Potential risks of suicide.

Bulimia Nervosa:

Just like anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa is also potentially a life-threatening eating disorder with serious health risks. This eating disorder is defined by binge eating (eating an excessive amount of food) and then purging to get rid of the extra calories they just ate. These individuals often feel like they have no control over-eating leading them to unhealthy methods of weight-loss. These unhealthy methods of weight loss include the same ones as those with anorexia nervosa but also include fasting and enemas.

Common symptoms of bulimia nervosa:

  • Repeated episodes of eating excessive amounts of food in one sitting.
  • Feelings of being unable to control how much they eat and when to stop. 
  • Obsession with monitoring food and calory intake as well as dieting. 
  • Distorted body image,
  • Excessive exercising.
  • Fear of weight gain.
  • Purging and use of other weight-loss methods such as laxatives, diuretics, enemas, fasting, and dietary supplements.

Potential health risks:

  • Cardiac complications such as irregular heartbeats.
  • Dehydration.
  • Edema.
  • Loss of potassium, sodium, and chloride in the body.
  • Esophageal inflammation.
  • Bulimia teeth: tooth decay or staining caused by the reflux of stomach acid.
  • Irregular digestive functions.
  • Fatigue.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Damage to the esophagus.
  • Hormonal imbalances and problems.
  • Risks associated with diabulimia include organ damage and peripheral neuropathy

How Cannabis Can Help Eating Disorders?

Cannabis can, theoretically, assist these eating disorders through the notorious munchies. This theoretical stance on cannabis and eating disorders is based on the proven effectiveness of cannabis as an appetite stimulant for cancer and HIV/AIDS patients. Because there is insufficient research available, we have to draw logical and theoretical conclusions at this point.

However, a 2011 study suggests that cannabis can be used to treat eating disorders by targeting the endocannabinoid system in our bodies. Dysfunctional regulation and underlying imbalances in the endocannabinoid system are persistent in all patients with eating disorders. A cannabinoid-derived treatment, which targets the endocannabinoid system (like cannabis) could prove very valuable as it restores the endocannabinoid deficiencies. 

People dealing with eating disorders often struggle finding pleasure in activities such as eating. However, consuming cannabis can enhance the pleasures of eating as it boosts the sensitivity to smell and taste. This can hopefully make eating more pleasurable, which is important for people suffering from eating disorders. 

Through the stimulation of metabolism, consuming cannabis can also increase ones’ caloric intake by as much as 40%. Cannabis can also increase appetite and snacking behaviors which is vital for weight restoration and for initiating a better relationship with food and eating. 

Anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate out of all the psychiatric diseases. Around 30 million people have an eating disorder of which anorexia is the most common. Of those many people, 6% commit suicide. Statistics like that are the reasons why you should be progressive about treating anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders. 

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