According to the National Eating Disorders Association[1], anorexia, in particular, is the most common of them all. Not only is it the most common eating disorder, but it also has the highest mortality rate[2], 12.8 percent to be exact. Although several medications help treat anorexia, not everyone is for pharmaceuticals. Cannabis, in particular, is known to cause the munchies, but can medical cannabis successfully treat anorexia?


According to NEDA[3], the definition of anorexia is “a serious, potentially life-threatening eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and excessive weight loss”. If left untreated, the consequences of anorexia can be dire. Not only does anorexia have the highest mortality rate, but it also has a shocking 6 percent suicide rate. The symptoms, in particular, involve low body weight, obsessively counting calories, body dysmorphia, and a constant need to have control over her/his surroundings. Also, individuals often have trouble partaking in everyday activities that most people enjoy. Moreover, sufferers base their sense of self-worth on the shape and weight of their bodies.


For the most part, people believe the causes[4] of anorexia are childhood trauma and family members'/society's desire to maintain a slim physique. However, evidence came about recently, that genetics and neurobiological factors are also responsible.


Cannabis is known for giving people a serious case of the munchies at times. Therefore, it's safe to assume, that the herb can help treat anorexia. Moreover, there is research, that has proven, that cannabis is an appetite stimulant, particularly for those that have HIV/AIDS. But in regards to the herb working for anorexia, research is very limited. Furthermore, there are only a few states, that qualify anorexia for medical cannabis treatment. However, several states allow cannabis to battle anxiety, nausea, and uncontrollable weight loss.

According to a 2011 Belgian study[5], it suggests, that because dysfunctional regulation and underlying imbalances within the endocannabinoid system are essential to eating disorders, developing cannabinoid-derived treatments could prove to be therapeutically valuable. Furthermore, the study points out that cannabinoids could potentially help correct endocannabinoid deficiencies, while assisting the individual in returning to a healthy state. However, this study, in particular, is a small one and more research is required.

During 2014, European neuroscientists conducted a critical study on animals[6], which offered another explanation as to why cannabis, specifically THC, may be able to treat anorexia. In fact, authors of the study found, that the way THC activates the endocannabinoid system’s CB1 receptor, increases the desire to eat by heightening our sensitivity to taste and smell.

Last, but certainly not least, there's a human study[7] from the Center for Eating Disorders at Odense University Hospital in Denmark, which provided further evidence in regards to cannabis effectively treating anorexia. However, with only 24 subjects the study is small. During the study, patients received a placebo or Dronabinol, which is a synthetic form of THC. As a result, patients gained more weight on Dronabinol than the placebo. Moreover, the authors claim the treatment was “well tolerated” with “few adverse events”. In fact, a year after starting treatment, researchers followed up with patients and determined they were still improving their symptoms and nutrition with zero signs of addiction or withdrawal.

Although there are few studies to conclude, that cannabis is effective in treating anorexia, there is still evidence, that the endocannabinoid system has a strong influence on appetite. Therefore, the thought of using cannabis to treat anorexia seems realistic.


External Resources:
  1. What are Eating Disorders? | National Eating Disorders Association
  2. The Cannabinoid Receptor Agonist THC Attenuates Weight Loss in a Rodent Model of Activity-Based Anorexia
  3. Anorexia Nervosa | National Eating Disorders Association
  6. The endocannabinoid system controls food intake via olfactory processes | Nature Neuroscience
  7. Dronabinol in severe, enduring anorexia nervosa: A randomized controlled trial
This content is for educational purposes only. The information provided is derived from research gathered from external sources.

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