Eating Disorders (Anorexia) and Medical Marijuana

Anorexia is an acute loss of appetite, often associated with psychological factors.  Various stomach disorders, reactions to medications, and the use of illicit narcotics such as cocaine or heroin can cause anorexia.  Some forms of anorexia are thought to develop as an exaggerated response to cultural standards of beauty.  The potential for relief of anorexia with the use of cannabis may depend upon psychological factors.  Cannabinoids may have minimal appetite stimulation effect in cases of classic anorexia nervosa.  The overwhelming evidence of hunger-inducing properties of cannabinoids, particularly the primary ingredient, delta-9 THC, in the physical condition of appetite loss known as cachexia is well established...  Synthetic THC pills called Marinol are indicated for the treatment of anorexia, but physicians may risk losing their license by writing “off-label” Marinol prescriptions for patients suffering from anorexia not caused by the AIDS wasting syndrome or cancer chemotherapy.

Increased Appetite

Use of marijuana stimulates the body's metabolism and causes users to experience an increase in appetite.  Numerous disease states including cancer and HIV can cause symptoms of decreased appetite to develop in affected patients.  If this occurs, patients often lose significant amounts of weight, which can be detrimental to the disease recovery process.  The human body requires energy in the form of ingested food to fight infection and heal cell or tissue damage.  In patients who experience decreased appetite due to a specific disease, medical marijuana may be helpful in appetite stimulation.  Medicinal marijuana can signal a food craving within a patient's body, encouraging the patient to eat to provide energy to the body.

Marijuana is useful in the treatment for anorexia that resulted from HIV/AIDS.  However, have any states been looking into adding marijuana into therapy for anorexia as solely an eating disorder?

Marijuana would help in all stages of recovery.  If an anorexic patient were in critical condition and refusing food, it would be a lot less traumatizing to stimulate their appetite rather than force them to use a feeding tube.  .  To reduce the use of feeding tubes while still providing patients with adequate calories would be beneficial to the patient's emotional as well as their physical well-being.  Marijuana would also help with the later stages of recovery—after the patient’s weight is stabilized.  It could be used as relaxation therapy.  Patients who are not ready for recovery are also reluctant to be open with their treatment team.  It would allow the patient to explore new ideas and get insight into the cause of their eating disorder.

An appetite-enhancing effect of THC is observed with daily divided doses totaling 5 mg.  When required, the daily dose may be increased to 20 mg.  In a long-term study of 94 AIDS patients, the appetite-stimulating effects of THC continued for months, confirming the appetite enhancement noted in a shorter six-week study.  THC doubled appetite on a visual analogue scale in comparison to placebo.  Patients tended to retain a stable body weight over the course of seven months.

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