Updated on January 3, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Richard Koffler, MD, Board Certified Physiatrist
When you have a life-threatening illness like cancer or HIV/AIDS, you must get the nutrition you need and maintain a healthy body weight. Wasting syndrome makes both of those actions difficult. Whether it’s due to nausea, lack of appetite or change in bodily functions, this condition makes it harder to eat right.
No matter what wasting syndrome symptoms you have, medical marijuana can help you get your nutrients again. It enhances your appetite, making you want to eat again. You can also use cannabis medicine to relieve nausea and help you keep your food down.
Brisbois et al. looked into THC’s ability to stimulate cancer patients’ sense of taste, sense of smell, appetite and food consumption. Cancer can cause a patient to lose their sense of smell and taste, making food less appealing. It can also reduce someone’s appetite.
A total of 21 patients with advanced stage cancer completed the study. For 18 days, they took either THC or a placebo twice a day. They completed an assessment at the beginning and end of the study. Brisbois et al. used patient reports to measure taste, smell, appetite and quality of life.
The patients who took THC had improved appetites, smell and taste. They had an especially increased interest in savory, high-protein foods like beans, meat and mushrooms. According to members of the THC group, food “tasted better” for them, making it easier to eat.
Haney et al. compared the use of dronabinol, a synthetic cannabinoid, and smoked cannabis as treatments for AIDS-related wasting syndrome. Before this study, nobody had made a direct comparison between the two drugs’ effects on HIV-positive marijuana smokers. Wasting syndrome makes AIDS treatment difficult, so we need to look for safe treatments.
Throughout eight seven-hour trials, the team administered dronabinol and marijuana to 30 HIV-positive cannabis smokers. Half of the subjects had a 10% or higher decrease in muscle mass, and the other half didn’t. Haney et al. divided the patients this way because the decrease in muscle mass is a common symptom of AIDS-related wasting syndrome.
Both the dronabinol and marijuana helped the patients with decreased muscle mass take in more calories. While the highest dronabinol dose caused some side effects for a subset of patients, all other kinds of cannabis medicine were well-tolerated.
Wilson et al. examined dronabinol’s potential to stimulate older patients’ appetites. Reduced food intake and significant weight loss are two factors that increase mortality rates for patients in long-term care facilities. So, increasing their appetites with dronabinol could help them gain weight and maintain it.
The team examined records from five long-term care facilities in the same metropolitan area. Specifically, they looked at medical charts for 28 patients who took a 12-week course of dronabinol. These patients went through the treatment to address anorexia and weight loss. Wilson’s crew noted weight loss trends, side effects and death rates.
Out of the 28 participants, 15 of them — or 53.5% — gained weight thanks to the dronabinol. Sixty-seven percent of those patients gained more than five pounds, and 40% of them gained more than 10 pounds. Only 24% of the patients who gained weight passed away, compared to 64% of patients who lost weight and passed away.
Sometimes it’s best to go the natural route. Learn more about wasting syndrome and medical cannabis treatment on our condition page. For personalized information and medical marijuana examinations, visit a cannabis-trained doctor — search our database and book an appointment today to get the relief you need.