Anorexia nervosa is a mental health condition keeping patients from sustaining a healthy body weight due to food restriction, a distorted body image, fear of weight gain, and coping issues. Per American Addiction Centers, it is the least common of the eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating); however, it still kills more people than all three.

Anorexia can cause extensive weight loss and nutrient deficiencies. Some doctors think that medical marijuana can stimulate the appetites of those with anorexia. However, researchers warn that medical marijuana may harm those with coexisting mental illnesses.

Anorexia Symptoms 

Anorexia nervosa is a mental disorder that is also classified as an eating disorder. Biological, psychological, and environmental factors can influence anorexia, including cultural and social pressures, genetics, trauma, and emotional health.   

Short-term signs include:

  • restrictive eating
  • emaciation
  • distorted body image

Long-term symptoms include:

  • thinning bones 
  • short and fine hairs all over the body
  • dry skin
  • yellow skin
  • anemia
  • heart and organ damage
  • low blood pressure

 Anorexia can be fatal if left untreated. Early detection and treatment are essential in preventing long-term health issues. While men also experience eating disorders, women are more likely to develop anorexia nervosa. However, LGBTQ+ men are at a greater risk of experiencing eating disorders than their straight counterparts. 

Current Anorexia Treatments

Treatment for anorexia often involves a combination of therapies and treatments, including:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Nutrition education
  • Antidepressants
  • Hospitalization and Medical Care

Research shows that family support is critical and plays a significant role in the patient’s recovery. Anorexia patients are at a higher risk for suicide and self-harm, so support is vital.

The ECS and Eating Disorders

The endocannabinoid system comprises an extensive network of chemical signals and cellular receptors densely packed throughout our brains and bodies. The “cannabinoid” receptors in the brain — the CB1 receptors — outnumber many other receptor types in the brain.

They act like traffic cops to control the levels and activity of most of the other neurotransmitters. This is how they regulate things: by immediate feedback, turning up or down the movement of whichever system needs to be adjusted, whether hunger, temperature, or alertness.

All of us have tiny cannabis-like molecules floating around in our brains. The cannabis plant, which humans have been using for about 5,000 years, essentially works by hijacking this ancient cellular machinery.

The endocannabinoid system regulates learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain control, inflammatory and immune responses, and eating. This vital system is currently at the center of renewed international research and drug development. Its function is to support homeostasis in the body through giving and receiving feedback to cells that help regulate vital bodily functions such as mood, temperature, immune response, appetite and digestion, metabolism, stress, and many other essential functions.

Medical Cannabis- Anxiety & Anorexia Nervosa

Anxiety is another condition that often accompanies anorexia. Medical marijuana for an anxiety disorder typically has a more considerable amount of CBD, and lower levels of THC, depending on the type, can induce anxiety and panic. Safe access to medical marijuana strains with the combination of cannabidiol CBD concentrations could provide health benefits without the risks.

THC and CBD can improve sleep quality and duration in anxiety disorders. Recent clinical trials tell us that medical cannabis may help reduce social anxiety in the short term and help you sleep better. However, before using marijuana to treat anxiety, we recommend speaking with your doctor to be safe. 

Can MMJ Treat Anorexia?

While traditional treatment has helped many anorexia patients recover fully, the scarcity of effective medicinal treatments has spurred research into cannabinoids such as THC and CBD for anorexia treatment. 

There have not been any controlled trials conducted studying the effect of natural cannabis on appetite and weight, with weight as the primary endpoint. This is partly due to existing federal regulations regarding investigating the potential therapeutic benefit of the cannabis plant.

Cannabis can act as an appetite stimulant and may be an effective treatment for eating disorders like anorexia. However, further research on the anorexia population and cannabis’ effects on weight, depression, and anxiety is needed to understand its impacts fully. 

A 2014 trial that studied the use of Dronabinol in severe, enduring anorexia nervosa patients found that patients well tolerated this therapy. Four weeks of exposure induced minor weight gain without severe adverse effects. Dronabinol is a lab-created THC that is FDA approved to treat appetite and weight in those with immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).

Last Updated: July 26, 2023

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