Struggling to Eat: Can Anorexics Benefit from Marijuana?

Struggling to Eat: Can Anorexics Benefit from Marijuana?

Young girl does not want to eat

Thin is in, and has been for over a century now. However, with the abundance of food choices available in the United States, much of them high-but-empty calories, the irony is that more people are overweight or obese than are thin. And yet. On the other extreme, some people – usually women – suffer from this cultural-obsessed lauding of thinness that the only way they feel they can control their weight is to claim they are not hungry, day in and day out. Hunger becomes a way of life, and even kicks in a physical addiction – a “high” of unceasing feelings of hunger.  And even after they lose significant amounts of weight, they often still might describe themselves as “too fat.” This behavior describes the eating disorder called anorexia nervosa.

What Can Be Done?

Heard of the pot munchies? You know, you’re passing around a joint, and it feels like something is missing if there aren’t any snack foods around? Potato chips, peanuts, Chinese takeout, or even a full family size pizza pie. Bottom line: Marijuana makes you hungry. Can this help anorexics recover? It very well might, because the THC properties of marijuana can both induce an altered state where an anorexic’s eating inhibitions are lowered, and at the same time increase their appetite with the associated food cravings, colloquially known as pot munchies.

Medicinal marijuana is already used to combat loss of appetite in cancer and HIV patients because it can signal a food craving within a patient’s body, encouraging the patient to eat and maintain enough strength to try to fight off disease symptoms, rather than worsening them because of malnutrition.

The Research

As far back as 1976, cannabis was equated with increased appetite, and consequent weight gain,  among cancer patients. More recently,  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, and patients tended to retain a stable body weight over the course of seven months.

Furthermore, marijuana could help not only in encouraging calorie consumption among anorexics, it could help in various stages of recovery. For example, if an anorexic patient is in critical condition, yet still refusing food, it could be a lot less psychologically and physically traumatizing to stimulate their appetite rather than force them to use a feeding tube.  Marijuana could also help in later stages of recover, such as after the patient’s weight is stabilized.  It can be used as relaxation therapy, facilitating an openness with therapists in relating their personal issues which could be the cause of anorexia.  All in all, medical marijuana could be a multi-layered solution to anorexia’s physical and psychological impact, facilitating recovery and a return to normal weight and behavior surrounding food. 

So Why Not?

It’s not just a simple prescription because eating disorders aren’t necessarily deemed medically worthy of the still-precarious cannabis solution.  Therefore, doctors in states where medical marijuana is legal could lose their licenses if they prescribe it – or even its synthetic version Marinol –  for anorexia nervosa. Let’s hope that eating disorder sufferers won’t continue to be discriminated against – they suffer enough as it is that they don’t need the medical establishment telling them they can’t use a hopeful solution for their starvation.



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.


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