Medical Marijuana and Anorexia
There are various conventional and alternative treatments for anorexia. In this article, we look at what anorexia is, how physicians treat it and how medical marijuana for anorexia might help alleviate you or your loved one’s symptoms.
What Is Anorexia?
Anorexia nervosa, or anorexia, is a psychological and possibly life-threatening eating disorder.
Signs that you might have anorexia include having:
- An extremely low body mass index (BMI) relative to your stature.
- An extreme compulsion to lose weight.
- An illogical fear of gaining weight.
- A distorted perception of your body and self-image.
- A compulsion to exercise excessively.
- A restriction on your food intake (i.e., starving yourself).
- Frequent episodes of purging food you’ve eaten.
- A compulsion to use diuretics and/or laxatives.
- A belief that you’re overweight, even if you’re dangerously underweight.
Anorexia is an eating disorder that the sufferer usually has no control over. If you have anorexia, you lose more weight than is healthy for your height and age. It’s especially common for people diagnosed with anorexia to try to lose weight through over-exercising or by other means.
The condition often starts when you’re a pre-teen, teen or young adult. Anorexia affects females most commonly, but it can also affect males.
Risk factors for developing the condition include:
- Social or cultural attitudes that promote thin body types
- Negative self-image
- Anxiety disorders
- Desire to be perfect
- Eating problems during infancy or early childhood
When you’re in the midst of an anorexic disorder, you may often feel fatigued, exhausted, dizzy, dehydrated and cold. If you’re a woman, your menstrual cycles may become irregular or stop altogether. Your hair may begin thinning, and you might feel irritable, anxious or sad.
Anorexia, or an abnormal decrease in the sensation of appetite, is a serious side effect of many drugs including radiation therapy and chemotherapy, and many medical conditions, such as acute viral hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, cancer, congestive heart failure, Chron’s disease, depression and more. (Click here to learn about the eating disorder Anorexia Nervosa.) Anorexia can lead to or contribute to other serious medical conditions such as wasting syndrome or cachexia.
History of Anorexia
Many historical figures such as Mary, Queen of Scots are thought to have suffered from anorexia. The first descriptions of the illness date back to Hellenistic times.
In 1689, the first medical descriptions of anorexia nervosa were mentioned by the English doctor Richard Morton. However, the condition didn’t become widely accepted by medical professionals in the late 19th century. In 1978, the psychoanalyst Hilde Bruch published The Golden Cage: The Enigma of Anorexia Nervosa. The book brought a wider awareness of the illness among the general public.
Effects of Anorexia
When you have anorexia, you usually:
- Have a distorted body image.
- Are focused on body shape or weight.
- Refuse to admit the dangers of losing too much weight.
- Have an all-encompassing fear of getting fat or of gaining weight.
- Refuse to maintain your weight at a level that’s thought to be normal for your height and age.
You might severely limit the amount of food you eat, or perhaps you might eat and then force yourself to vomit. Other behavioral signs of anorexia include:
- Going to the bathroom immediately after eating.
- Refusing to eat when other people are around.
- Moving your food around your plate instead of eating.
- Cutting your food into small pieces.
- Exercising obsessively.
- Using pills to decrease your appetite, make you urinate or have a bowel movement.
Physical symptoms of the illness include:
- Slow thinking
- Poor judgment
- Bad memory
- Yellow or blotchy dry skin covered with fine hair
- Dry mouth
- Loss of body fat
- Irregular heartbeat
- Wasting of muscle
- Bone thinning (osteoporosis)
- Hair thinning
- Dry mouth
- Extreme sensitivity to cold
The National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, Inc. (ANAD) reports the following facts relating to anorexia:
- 13 percent of females over 50 show signs of eating disorder behavior.
- All races and walks of life are affected by eating disorders.
- 0.9 percent of U.S. women have anorexia in their lifetime.
- 50 to 80 percent of the risk for anorexia is genetic.
- 33-50 percent of people with anorexia also have a mood disorder such as depression.
Current Treatments Available for Anorexia and Their Side Effects
Anorexia diagnosis can be a challenge. The condition often involves denial, secrecy and shame. Because of these factors, the illness may go undiagnosed for a lengthy period.
To diagnose you with this eating disorder, your doctor will examine you and take a complete medical history to make an evaluation. There are no lab tests to diagnose the condition conclusively. But your doctor may run tests such as blood tests to rule out other conditions and to determine whether your weight loss is adversely affecting your organs.
If no underlying physical illness is present, you may receive a referral to a psychologist or a psychiatrist who can evaluate you further.
You may need emergency care if your case is extreme and involves any of the following:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Kidney failure
Even if you’re not in an emergency situation, potential treatments will be challenging due to common feelings about the illness. Your physician will recommend a comprehensive treatment plan to meet your needs and get you well. Your medical team may employ the following treatment methods:
- Family or Group Therapy: You need family support to beat anorexia successfully. It’s crucial that those closest to you understand your illness so they can offer you support. They also will need support themselves.
- Psychotherapy: You’ll receive psychotherapy to help you change your behavior and thinking. You’ll learn new and practical techniques for changing the way you respond to stressful situations and for developing a healthy attitude towards food.
- Nutrition Counseling: Nutrition counseling helps restore normal eating patterns. It also teaches you about the importance of following a balanced diet.
- Medication: Antidepressants are often prescribed to help control depression, anxiety, stimulate appetite and to enable you to sleep. Unfortunately, these drugs often have adverse side effects. These include nausea, fatigue, insomnia, agitation, sexual problems and more.
- Hospitalization: If you’re suffering from complications or severe weight loss, you may need to go into hospital for treatment.
Also, if medical marijuana is approved as a qualifying condition for the treatment of anorexia, you might consider using cannabis to help with your anorexic symptoms. To date, California, Maryland, New Mexico, and Washington have anorexia on their approved lists for medical cannabis.
Your medical team can best diagnose and treat anorexia when detected early.
Let’s take a look at how medical cannabis for anorexia might help you.
How Medical Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Anorexia
Medical marijuana can stimulate your metabolism and help to increase your appetite. You’ve no doubt heard of cannabis users having “the munchies.” They often have a raging hunger after they’ve taken a hit. This craving for food encourages them to eat to provide the body with vital calories, nutrients and energy. It can also help you eat if you have anorexia.
Marijuana can help you throughout your various stages of anorexia recovery. For example, if you were in a critical condition and couldn’t eat, ingesting pot could be a better and gentler alternative to a feeding tube. During the later stages of your recovery, after your weight has stabilized, you can use pot to help you relax and to combat depression and anxiety.
According to scientific and anecdotal evidence, using medical marijuana is a safe, effective way to increase the appetite. A Columbia University study found that THC and cannabis caused an increase in caloric intake and weight in HIV-positive patients. And the National Cancer Institute is in the process of evaluating the effects of THC for treatment-related and cancer-related anorexia. Many marijuana states include anorexia on their list of qualifying conditions. Additionally, marijuana side effects are typically mild and are classified as “low risk,” with euphoric mood changes among the most frequent side effects. Increased appetite is considered to be one of the few marijuana side effects, but it can be extremely beneficial to patients suffering from anorexia.
Anorexia and Your Endocannabinoid System
Physical brain changes accompany anorexia. Some of these happen in your endocannabinoid system or ECS. Your ECS controls feelings of pleasure, mood and appetite. When you take medical marijuana, THC engages your ECS and takes the place of some of the compounds produced by our own bodies known as endocannabinoids.
As reported in 2012 in Behavioral Pharmacology, researchers suggested that the endocannabinoid system malfunctions in people with anorexia. Researchers aren’t clear whether these changes are already present in anorexia patients, or if they happen because of anorexia. Either way, there are some positive signs that cannabis can help treat the condition.
What Symptoms of Anorexia Does Medical Marijuana Treat?
When you’re looking for the best strain of medical pot to treat your anorexia symptoms, it will take a little bit of experimentation before finding the right strain or strains. Medical weed is useful for treating the following:
- Depression and anxiety
To start trying out medical marijuana, it’s crucial that you get your medical marijuana card. You can take this to visit dispensaries and ask the budtenders the questions you need to have answered. You’ll also need to take your medical marijuana recommendation with you on these visits.
It’s perfectly natural to be a little worried before visiting a dispensary. The more you do it, however, the faster it’ll become like second nature to you.
Cannabis Strains Explained
It’s always a good idea to talk to your medical marijuana doctor or a budtender about your options regarding cannabis for anorexia. In the meantime, we’ve put together this helpful guide to the different strain categories and their properties.
Cannabis Indica Strains
Indica strains have a whole-body sedating effect. They’re useful for treating conditions such as:
Cannabis Sativa Strains
Sativa strains are great for upping your energy levels. They’re often used to treat:
Hybrid strains have both Indica and sativa qualities.
There are no rights and wrongs when it comes to experimenting with different medical pot strains. In fact, many people choose to medicate with a combined strain approach. Cannabis no longer carries the stigma it once had. People all around the globe are waking up to the medicinal benefits of pot. Sativas are often best used during the day as they have energizing properties. Indicas are relaxing and better suited to evening use.
Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Anorexia
Cannabis is useful for treating many symptoms of anorexia. Let’s see what strains work well for each symptom.
Lack of Appetite
The most prominent symptom of anorexia is a marked lack of appetite. The following strains will help you get your appetite back on track:
- Pure Kush: Pure Kush is a potent indica. It provides you with intense feelings of relaxation and has the bonus of giving you the munchies.
- GigaBud: GigaBud is a powerful indica strain that’s ideal for enhancing your appetite. It has a track record of helping medical patients in particular.
- Maui Bubble Gift: An indica-dominant hybrid, Maui Bubble Gift relieves any tension in your stomach and also works well to combat nausea.
- Platinum Purple Kush: A well-known indica strain for inducing hunger, Platinum Purple Kush provides you with a positive, clear and happy mindset too.
Depression And Anxiety
Mood disorders are common in people with anorexia. If you don’t like the idea of the side effects associated with conventional antidepressants, these four strains are worth a try:
- Granddaddy Purple: Granddaddy Purple is a sedative indica that’s best taken around bedtime to combat depression. Your experience will be mentally upbeat yet body-heavy.
- Chocolope: Chocolope is a sativa that’s popular among people who want to alleviate depression and chronic fatigue. You’ll feel uplifted and happy when you take this strain.
- Pennywise: Pennywise is an indica hybrid that makes you feel slightly sedated and unusually relaxed. It’s a perfect choice if you suffer from anxiety.
- Blue Dream: Blue Dream is a famous and popular hybrid strain that is safe for daytime use. You’ll feel relaxed, happy and creative as a result of taking it.
Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment to Use to Treat Anorexia Symptoms
Perhaps the most well-known way of consuming pot is to smoke it. Nowadays, however, there are many ways of taking medical weed. Smoking doesn’t have to be one of them, although that’s still a fast and effective option. Keep in mind that you can experiment with any of the various methods of taking cannabis until you find the one that suits you.
As with anything new, it’s best to begin by taking a low dose to see how the strain suits you. From there, you can work your way up until you find the best dose for you. Be sure to take your time as you experiment. Pot effects can sometimes take time to take hold.
- Smoking: Smoking can irritate your lungs. You’ll also smell of the drug if you go down this route of treatment. If you wish to smoke marijuana, start off with a small hit to see how you’re affected.
- Edibles: Edibles are a good choice for if you’re inexperienced with weed. You can buy edibles ready-made or can make your own. Bear in mind that edibles can take some time to kick in, so you need to be wary of overeating in too short a space of time.
- Topicals: You put topicals directly onto your skin to relieve localized pain and inflammation. These are not extremely useful if you have anorexia, but they’re a choice that’s out there for the treatment of other conditions.
- Vaping: Vaping isn’t as hard on your lungs as smoking. Vaping units do need regular recharging, however.
- Suppositories: Pot suppositories have long-lasting effects and absorb rapidly through your colon. They’re a good choice if you have trouble eating or swallowing, as might be the case with anorexia.
- Tinctures and sprays: Tinctures and sprays absorb through your mouth. They’re very discreet and versatile, and you can carry these along with you wherever you are.
- Taking fresh cannabis: You need to have a large supply of leaves to get the full medicinal benefit from fresh cannabis. You also won’t have immediate symptomatic relief as the cannabis first needs to travel through your digestive system.
The best way to move forward is to search for a medical marijuana doctor or dispensary today to find out more about cannabis and anorexia. Your medical pot doctor or the dispensary staff can assess your condition to help you select the most suitable type of medicinal pot. Take control of your anorexia today.
More Information About Medical Marijuana & Anorexia
- Can Medical Marijuana Be Used as Appetite Stimulant in Patients With Anorexia Nervosa
- Best Strains of Medical Marijuana to Manage Anorexia-Related Nausea
- Medical Marijuana as a Mood Stimulant in Patients With Anorexia Nervosa