Can medical marijuana help patients who suffer from symptoms of bulimia? Read below to find out more. 

What is Bulimia?

Bulimia 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. Bulimia involves uncontrolled episodes of overeating, called bingeing, often followed by purging by vomiting or misusing laxatives. Bingeing is eating significant amounts of food in a short period, usually less than two hours. With bulimia, it may feel like one can’t stop or control these episodes. In extreme cases, binge-purge cycles can occur several times weekly or daily.

Bulimia Nervosa Symptoms

Bulimia nervosa can be difficult for others to see as people with the condition often binge and purge alone. 

Behavioral and emotional symptoms of bulimia may include:

  • Frequent visits to the bathroom, especially after meals.
  • Excessive exercising
  • Body image issues
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Depression or anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Loss of control over emotions
  • Guilty or ashamed of eating
  • Social withdrawal

Physical symptoms of bulimia nervosa may include:

  • Swollen cheeks or jawline
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Scars, scrapes, or calluses on knuckles
  • Fainting
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Dehydration
  • Thinning bones 
  • Dry skin
  • Yellow skin
  • Anemia
  • Heart and organ damage
  • Low blood pressure
  • Poor dental hygiene

Bulimia Treatment Options

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

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

Bulimia 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 them. However, LGBTQ+ men are at a greater risk of experiencing eating disorders than their straight counterparts. 

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

What is anorexia nervosa?

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.

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 & Bulimia

Anxiety is another condition that often accompanies bulimia. 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 Bulimia?

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

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).

The University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions (RIA) has recently begun research on the connection between cannabinoids, depression, and chronic stress. Animal research shows that certain cannabinoids can help reduce stress, which is a significant cause of depression. It’s also important to note that over half of Washington medical marijuana users that participated in a survey reported treating depression with medical cannabis products.

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 and bulimia. However, further research on cannabis’ effects on weight, depression, and anxiety is needed to understand its impacts fully. 

Last Updated: July 26, 2023

Get Your Medical Card

Connect with a licensed physician online in minutes

Keep Reading