Eating Disorders

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Treating Eating Disorders with Cannabis

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health reports that there is a false and accepted belief that eating disorders are a lifestyle choice. They are not. Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa and Binge-eating disorders are clinical conditions in which sufferers either starve, vomit or binge and purge uncontrollably. One person dies every 62 minutes in the U.S. from eating disorders, according to the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (ANAD). 

Even more daunting is that eating disorders hold the highest death rate of all mental health conditions. Eating Disorder Hope, an educational news source reported in 2017, the impact of cannabis legalization on those with eating disorder conditions since “results showed that the brain’s marijuana-like neurotransmitter system was significantly underactive in participants with anorexia and bulimia.”

Eating Disorders Explained

Anorexia nervosa causes body dysmorphia, with sufferers seeing themselves as overweight when they are acutely thin. Anorexics restrict their food intake, practically starving themselves, for extended periods to lose as much weight as possible. Sufferers also exercise excessively and overuse laxatives and diuretics to control any potential weight gain. ANAD reports, along with noted symptoms, other signs of the eating disorder include bone thinning, brittle hair and nail, low blood pressure, multiorgan failure, and brain damage.

Unlike anorexia, Bulimia nervosa is the opposite, with sufferers binging on a disproportionate amount of food quickly and then forcing themselves to throw up not to gain any weight from the heavy calorie intake. While anorexics starve themselves, bulimics overeat to discomfort, often consuming more food in a short period than most eat all day.

Along with vomiting, fasting, and using an excessive number of laxatives to control possible weight gain, those with bulimia diet often without losing weight. Lastly, Binge-eating is like bulimia; however, after consuming large quantities of food and trying to force it out of the system, sufferers do not diet or exercise, becoming overweight and obese. 

Eating disorders do not discriminate, with all ages and races suffering from the condition. While the disease most often affects adolescents, ANAD reports up to 13% of women over 50 to suffer from unhealthy eating behaviors.

The Impact of Cannabinoids on Eating Disorders

An additional Eating Disorder Hope report in 2017 specifically discussed how medical cannabis could assist in treating anorexia. It states that medical cannabis can stimulate hunger in patients who have lost touch with natural cues to eat. The report cites a 1988 clinical trial study conducted by six adult male research volunteers living in a residential laboratory who consumed up to two cannabis-infused cigarettes with up to 2.3% THC, opposed to another placebo group.

“Smoked active marijuana significantly increased total daily caloric intake by 40%. Increased food intake was evident during both private and social periods,” according to the study, adding, “increases in body weight during periods of active marijuana smoking were greater than predicted by caloric intake alone.”

A 2014 journal published in Nature Neuroscience further confirms how medical cannabis can alleviate anorexia symptoms by performing a clinical trial on mice. “We found that cannabinoid type-1 (CB1) receptors promote food intake in fasted mice by increasing odor detection,” according to the study. Along with additional studies, and continued research, scientists are likely to report further ways in which medical cannabis can help with eating disorders, giving new hope to the millions who suffer from the condition.  

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Data Last Updated 11/04/2021

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