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Medical Marijuana and Wasting Syndrome

marijuana and wasting syndrome

Wasting syndrome occurs as a serious side effect of some underlying chronic illnesses. When you have this condition, you find that you aren’t excited about eating, and your body doesn’t seem to be holding onto calories and nutrients when you do. You feel as though your energy has been zapped and may lose a significant amount of weight.

There are many conventional medical treatments available to treat wasting syndrome — there’s also medical marijuana. Individuals have been using marijuana for the treatment of their ailments for centuries. There’s also some promising evidence it can help alleviate your wasting syndrome symptoms. In this article, we look in more detail at cannabis and wasting syndrome. You’ll find out more about your symptoms and the medical evidence behind the use of medical cannabis for wasting syndrome.

What Is Wasting Syndrome?

Wasting syndrome is a serious side effect of many debilitating diseases in which muscle and fat tissue "waste" away. Infections and conditions that cause wasting include cancer, HIV/AIDS, superior mesenteric artery syndrome, tuberculosis, chronic diarrhea, chronic obstructive lung disease, congestive heart failure and familial amyloid polyneuropathy. Some individuals develop wasting syndrome as a result of infection-related nutrient losses, an extremely reduced energy intake or a combination of both.

what is wasting syndrome

Wasting syndrome is characterized by the involuntary loss of more than more than 10% of your overall body weight. You also experience at least a month of fever, diarrhea and/or weakness. There are various factors that contribute to wasting syndrome, including:

  • Altered metabolism. Wasting syndrome can impact the way your body converts food into energy. You may find you require more energy when you have a chronic disease. Therefore, you could need to intake more calories to maintain your usual body weight.
  • Low food intake. When you have a serious chronic illness, you don’t always feel like eating. You may need to take some of your medications on an empty stomach, and your medicines could alter your sense of taste, making foods you used to love now unappealing. You could already feel nauseous and just generally lack an appetite, or simply lack the energy to go into the kitchen and prepare your meals.
  • Poor nutrient absorption. Inadequate intake of essential nutrients is particularly common if you have HIV. The condition can reduce nutrient absorption by negatively affecting the lining of your intestines. Diarrhea can also cause nutrient and calorie loss.

If you develop infections with your chronic illness, it can increase the demand for your body’s energy needs. These infections can simultaneously interfere with your nutrients absorption and contribute to your fatigue. In turn, this can lead to a reduced appetite and low energy level that makes you less likely to cook for yourself or go out shopping for groceries. As this cycle continues, you eat less, which accelerates the wasting process. If you develop diarrhea or an infection, be sure to get treatment right away as they can interfere with proper absorption of nutrients.

History of Wasting Syndrome

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recognized wasting syndrome in 1987 as an AIDS-defining condition. However, wasting syndrome is still not well understood. There’s no defined and agreed treatment plan if you have the syndrome. In fact, it used to be overlooked by doctors, as physicians focused their attention on the underlying illness, rather than treating the wasting.

Thankfully, this has changed. However, it’s clear that researchers need to conduct more studies.

Symptoms of Wasting Syndrome

It’s possible not to look malnourished if you have wasting syndrome. If you were overweight when the condition developed, you wouldn’t suddenly look emaciated. Your weight loss will be far more noticeable if you’re a naturally slim person. It’s not possible to make a diagnosis just by looking at someone.

The below symptoms must be present to diagnose wasting syndrome accurately:

  • Elevated levels of cytokines in your blood
  • Less than 10% body fat
  • Losing more than 5% of your body fat without trying
  • Albumin level of under 35 grams per liter — Albumin protein supports your body’s fluid balance, and the liver creates it. When it’s lost, it can cause swelling, often in the ankles.
  • Body mass index (BMI) of less than 22 if you’re older than 65 or under 20 if you’re younger

You won’t have much of an appetite, and your muscles and body fat decrease. You’ll find you’re usually tired and lack the energy to do the activities you want or need to do.

Effects of Wasting Syndrome

If you’re suffering from underlying chronic illness, you often feel fatigued and have little appetite. Your immunity may be lower than usual, you could feel in low spirits or you could find you sometimes lack the energy to enjoy activities as much as you did before.

While the above may be so, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Marijuana could offer you the lifeline you need to live a more normal, happy and productive life.

Wasting Syndrome Statistics

Wasting syndrome isn’t extremely common, but it still affects a significant portion of the population:

wasting syndrome stats

Current Treatments Available for Wasting Syndrome

It’s essential if you have HIV or another condition that potentially results in wasting that you avoid the loss of lean body mass. There are various treatments to manage wasting, such as medical marijuana. Other options include:

  • Steroids. Typically, patients with wasting syndrome take steroids, such as corticosteroids or drugs that mimic progesterone, for treatment. Testosterone and anabolic steroids can enable you to build your muscle. The downside is that these can cause male infertility, irregulate periods and lower good cholesterol. Megace can stimulate your appetite, but it can also slow the release of sex gland hormones. Thalidomide is useful for lower your cytokine levels, but it’s known to cause muscle weakness.
  • Human growth hormones. Scientists are also studying how human growth hormone treatments can help wasting syndrome patients. However, it’s extremely expensive and could cost more than $40,000 per year to use.Human growth hormones can cause muscle and joint pain and can also result in high blood sugar, although these allow you to gain weight and build lean body mass.
  • Eating habits. Another approach is the use of nutritional supplements that provide easy-to-absorb nutrients. Some things that you can do include keeping an eye on your weight. When you have a chronic underlying illness like AIDS that can lead to wasting, you should try your best to eat even when you don’t have an appetite. Make it a point to choose foods that are highly nutritious and calorie-dense. It’s a good idea to work with a dietician who can help you choose the best high-density foods.

If none of these options sound appealing, consider medical marijuana. Weed is notorious for giving people “the munchies.” Many people develop a voracious appetite for some time after taking cannabis. Also, you avoid these side effects of some other medications, like steroids, when you take natural medical marijuana for wasting syndrome.

How Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Wasting Syndrome

To manage wasting syndrome, patients must reduce nausea and vomiting to increase food intake. And according to strong scientific and anecdotal evidence, using medical marijuana is a safe, effective way to do so. AIDS activists have long urged the legalization of marijuana because of its ability to reduce nausea and stimulate the appetite in HIV/AIDS patients.

marijuana can help

Most marijuana states include wasting syndrome on their list of qualifying conditions, and doctors in every state can legally prescribe Marinol, a synthetic form of a substance found in marijuana, as an appetite stimulant in patients with wasting syndrome. Additionally, marijuana side effects are typically mild and are classified as "low risk," with euphoric mood changes among the most frequent side effects.

A study of HIV/AIDS patients who consumed whole-plant cannabis along with dronabinol, found that participants gained more weight than those who took only a placebo. Another found that THC and marijuana use resulted in weight gain.

Published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes in 2007, researchers from Columbia University found the smoking pot significantly improved appetite, decreased nausea, increased body weight and stimulated caloric intake in HIV-positive participants. 

In their 1999 report, the Institute of Medicine (part of the National Academy of Sciences) and
White House, commissioned that cannabis has a potential therapeutic value to control nausea and vomiting and stimulate appetite. The report concluded:

“Advances in cannabinoid science of the last 16 years have given rise to a wealth of new opportunities for the development of medically useful cannabinoid based drugs. The accumulated data suggest a variety of indications, particularly for pain relief, nausea, and appetite stimulation. For patients, such as those with AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy, who suffer simultaneously from severe pain, nausea, and appetite loss, cannabinoid drugs might offer broad spectrum relief not found in any other single medication.”

Using Marijuana for Wasting Syndrome

Opting to try medical marijuana is an easy decision when you’re looking for respite from your symptoms. Many U.S. states have legalized its recreational and medical use although pot remains illegal on a federal level.

You must have a condition that’s on your state’s list of qualifying medical marijuana conditions to qualify for medical marijuana for wasting syndrome. To date, more than 20 states have qualified wasting syndrome as an approved condition for the use of medical marijuana.

You can visit dispensaries and buy the products that suit your needs once you have a medical marijuana doctor’s recommendation and a medical marijuana card. There are many different strains available to purchase. Speaking with your doctor or an experienced budtender for advice is arguably the best way to find ones that may suit your own needs.

Marijuana is an effective appetite stimulant, as we mentioned earlier. Additionally, it treats the vomiting, nausea, depression and general malaise symptoms of wasting syndrome. To know which strain to choose for your treatment, you need to understand your symptoms and how cannabis can help. Each strain can treat a specific set of side effects. The three main types of marijuana are indica, sativa and hybrid strains.

Indica Strains

Taking an indica strain tends to make you feel sedated to an extent. You feel a whole-body sensation and reduction in muscle tensions. Indica strains may be beneficial for treating conditions such as:

  • Tremors
  • Muscle spasms
  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Chronic pain
  • Rheumatic and arthritic swelling and stiffness

Sativa Strains

You feel energetic and clear-headed when you use a sativa strain. You feel this both in your body and your mind. Conditions and symptoms best treated with sativa flowers include:

  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Chronic pain
  • Depression
  • Appetite stimulation

Indica/Sativa Hybrid Strains

Hybrid strains have characteristics of both types of cannabis. Taking these can work well if you’re in chronic pain, as both these types are suitable for treating this symptom. Combining sativa with an indica strain helps aid mental clarity and cuts down on any sedative effects. Adding indica to sativa strains helps lower the likelihood of a pure sativa giving you anxiety.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Strain

There’s a lot to learn when choosing a strain. Look at this list for some marijuana strains for wasting syndrome to consider:

 1.    Energy

Chronic illness zaps your energy and gets you down. If you’re tired of spending day after day in bed, these sativa strains could be what you need:

  • Panama Red. Panama Red is a classic sativa strain that gives you an energetic, yet mellow high. It can be ideal for daytime use as it provides you with long-lasting get-up-and go. This strain is also considered to be safe for new users.
  • OG Kush. OG Kush is a sativa strain that doesn’t rev up your energy significantly, but it puts you into an easygoing and happy mood, enabling you to do more.
  • Jack’s Cleaner. Jack’s Cleaner is a strain that makes you feel upbeat and focused — it can significantly help you to get through the day. Jack Cleaner is for experienced marijuana users.
panama red

 2.    Appetite

One of the main symptoms of wasting syndrome is a lack of appetite. Your nausea and vomiting may also fade away when you’re eating well. While there are many others strains that can spark your appetite, these three may help stimulate your hunger:

  • Goo. Goo is a heavy indica that makes you feel incredibly relaxed while also stimulating your appetite. The strain is also useful if you suffer from gastrointestinal disorders.
  • Platinum Purple Kush. When you take this strain, you feel deeply relaxed, but you also maintain your mental focus and clarity. The significant upside of Platinum Purple Kush is that it has a reputation for making people feel ravenously hungry.
  • Caramelo. Caramelo is a sativa-dominant hybrid. It can be useful for relieving pain and nausea. Although its effects can be short-lived, the strain makes you feel energetic and very hungry, too.

 3.    Nausea/Vomiting

While some of the strains mentioned above work well for nausea and vomiting, the following cannabis strains can also help:

  • Sour Diesel. Sour Diesel is known for its pungent odor. The popular sativa strain makes you feel motivated and alert. Nausea and vomiting symptoms should rapidly disappear after you take this strain.
  • Blackwater. Blackwater is an indica strain that starts as a euphoric high and goes on to relax your body deeply. The strain may be helpful if you are dealing with pain, depression, anxiety or nausea.
  • Durban Poison. Durban Poison is a sativa strain with an herbal, spicy kick that’s good for treating nausea and sickness.

 4.    Depression

The following strains are thought to be helpful for eliminating symptoms of depression, allowing you to feel relaxed and calm:

  • Pennywise. Pennywise is an indica hybrid that may be a solid choice if you’re feeling depressed. The strain is useful during the daytime and gives you a calming, relaxing effect.
  • Blue Dream. Blue Dream is a hybrid strain that provides you with a relaxed, happy and enjoyable sensation. It’s also a useful strain to use to power through your working day.
  • Granddaddy Purple. Granddaddy Purple is an indica strain that works to combat insomnia and depression. It’s best to take at night as this strain has a body-heavy effect.

Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for Wasting Syndrome Symptoms

You now know of some of the most effective strains of medical pot for wasting syndrome. But, have you considered how you might use them? The most common way to use weed in the U.S. is to smoke it. Smoking is arguably one of the fastest ways to take cannabis into your system; however, you run an increased risk of respiratory problems when you smoke.

So, what are the alternatives?

  • Vaping. Vaping provides fast relief without the toxic components of smoking. 
  • Juices. You can blend raw, fresh cannabis leaves with some healthy juice. Juicing is a perfect option if you don’t have an appetite.
  • Sprays. Cannabis sprays come in a variety of flavors. They're convenient to keep in your bag or purse.
  • Tinctures. These are alcohol-based extracts. Tinctures are also convenient because you can place them into your food and drinks.
  • Suppositories. Medical pot can be easily made into suppository form if you have real trouble eating. Suppository-making kits are available online or in health food stores. You can place marijuana powder in these and keep them labeled in the fridge.
  • Edibles. You can buy or make your own edibles. You can also buy cannabis-infused lollipops and lozenges that offer fast relief if you have difficulty eating.

As you can see, there are many ways to take medical marijuana. You're sure to find the one or ones that suit you by trying some of the suggestions above. Taking cannabis for wasting syndrome can significantly alleviate your symptoms. To recap, it can help:

  • Increase your appetite
  • Stabilize your body weight
  • Elevate your mood
  • Decrease nausea and vomiting
  • Increase your energy levels

Wasting syndrome and chronic illness can be debilitating, and marijuana no longer has the negative stigma it used to. In recent years, the medical community has woken up to its benefits, as more states are qualifying certain conditions, including wasting syndrome and cachexia, for the use of cannabis.

To find out if using medical marijuana for wasting syndrome is the right path for you, you need to find a marijuana doctor in your area.  If you or someone close to you is looking for a way to gently and naturally relieve your wasting syndrome symptoms, while improving your general quality of life, search for a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary today to find out more.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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