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Combating Appetite Disorders Using Cannabis

Eating or appetite disorders are sometimes wrongfully dismissed as a lifestyle choice or “just a phase” that will be over as soon as the next diet fad arrives. While loss of appetite can be temporary and reversible, such as those caused by diseases like a bout of the flu or a side-effect of some medications like high-grade pain relievers, actual eating disorders are serious and often fatal illnesses.

The most common appetite disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. People with anorexia have an abnormally low body weight and harbor and intense fear of weight gain. They also have a distorted view of body weight and shape in general, which have adverse effects on their health and activities. Anorexics limit their calorie intake to the extreme, and use methods like excessive exercising, taking laxatives, or induced vomiting.

Bulimics, meanwhile, have an unhealthy preoccupation with their body weight and shape and judge themselves negatively based on rather unrealistic standards. Bulimia is often indicated by episodes binge-eating and purging. Sufferers usually eat a large amount of food in a short time, and then feel guilty or ashamed for overeating so they try to rid of the extra calories fast using unhealthy ways like force vomiting (or purging bulimia) or taking laxatives and excessive dieting aids (or nonpurging bulimia).

Binge-eating disorder, on the other hand, is similar to bulimia in that sufferers experience episodes when they feel a lack of control over their eating and thus eat too much. They can either eat abnormally quickly or eat more food than what is normal, even when not hungry or long after they’re full. They also feel guilty, ashamed, or disgusted after eating so much, although they don’t compensate with purging, excessive exercise, or other methods. However, the feeling of shame can lead sufferers of binge-eating disorder to eat alone or hide their condition. 

Risk Factors and Treatment

Health scientists and professionals have yet to pinpoint a reason behind appetite disorders, though research indicates that these illnesses are caused by a combination of genetic, psychological, and social factors. Certain situations, like age, gender, stress, and mental health disorders also heighten the risks of developing these eating disorders.

Eating disorders also run in families, which is why researchers are also studying DNA variations linked to the increased risk of developing eating disorders. Brain imaging studies also help provide a clearer look into the causes of appetite disorders, including a comparison of the brain chemistry and brain activity patterns of healthy and affected persons.

Among the parts of the brain under study is the hypothalamus, which is the main regulatory center for the human appetite. The nucleus accumbens (NAc) is also an important part of the study of eating disorders, as this area affects the brain’s interpretation of food palatability. The NAc is also where the brain coordinates neurotransmitter, opioid, and endocannabinoid signals that combine to control appetite feeding behavior.

Meanwhile, treatment for appetite disorders usually takes a team approach, involving medical doctors, mental health professionals, and nutritionists or dietitians. Based on the type of eating disorder, the treatment regimen includes primarily psychotherapy and nutrition education, with supplementary medication. This is because medicines can’t truly cure eating disorders, but rather help manage symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders that are frequently associated with eating disorders.

This lack of specific medication for eating disorders is also why people who suffer from these illnesses often choose alternative medications. These include herbal teas, dietary supplements that either stimulate or suppress appetite, and even medical marijuana.

The Endocannabinoid System and How We Enjoy Food

Our body’s endocannabinoid system (ECS) has been shown to exert control on how much we enjoy sensorial experiences -- like eating -- which motivates us to repeat the experience. The ECS is also involved in transmitting reward signals. If the ECS is under-active, it may affect the insula. This is an area of the brain that integrates the sensory aspects of food like taste, texture, and aroma, with our feelings and thoughts about hunger as well as food’s rewarding properties. If the sensory experience, thoughts, and emotions don’t “jive”, it may lead to inappropriate, extreme responses about food and the act of eating.

However, consuming cannabis -- whether it’s ingested as medical marijuana or as infused edibles, or inhaled or smoked through a vaporizer or joint -- triggers activity in the ECS, which in turn helps the insula integrate sensorial experiences with our thoughts and emotions. Since eating disorders are often coupled with negative emotional reactions to eating and food, cannabis may help address the situation by prompting the brain to have a more positive response.

Meanwhile, a study conducted by neuroscientist Tamas Horvath and his colleagues from Yale University, New Haven, suggest that the nerve cells pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) play a role in the release of ghrelin, also called the “hunger hormone”. POMC has been thought to only promote satisfaction, but Horvath’s team found in their research that POMC neurons release both hunger-suppressing and hunger-promoting hormones. When the CB1 receptors of the ECS are activated, the mitochondrial protein prompts the POMC to secrete the hormones that encourage appetite.

Research And Studies Show That Cannabis May Be Able To Help With Appetite Loss And Anorexia.

Cannabis: Can it Cure Eating Disorders?

It has long been proven that cannabis may be used as an appetite stimulant. Indica strains, which are high in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cause what’s popularly called “the munchies” -- THC, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, binds to CB1 receptors in the brain that release ghrelin. It’s interesting to note, however, that THC also has the ability to suppress weight gain when you are on a high-fat diet.

On the other hand, a study conducted in 2012 showed that some cannabinoids like cannabidiol (CBD) and cannabigerol (CBG) may help suppress appetite. CBD in particular was noted not to affect the level of enjoyment while eating food even as it reduced the amount of food consumed. This may be the reason why people who regularly consume cannabis have smaller waistlines and lower BMIs.

This simply means that depending on the symptoms exhibited, different strains of medical marijuana may be prescribed to different patients of eating disorders. Other considerations include medications that are currently being taken, as they may work in contrast to the intended effects of cannabis.

Eating Cannabis to Combat Eating Disorders

Each case of eating disorder is unique in its own way.  Each patient may need a different combination of appetite suppressants or inducers to counteract the physical and mental manifestations and complications of the disease. The team of health practitioners working with the patient is responsible for working out these combinations and at what point of the treatment should appetite inducers or suppressants be introduced.

It may be a little contradictory to eat more to address an eating disorder, especially when the condition makes you averse to eating. However, consuming infused edibles will ensure that you get the correct dose of whatever cannabinoid you need. Extracting cannabis oil follows a careful and precise process to ensure that the right amount of THC and/or CBD is present; indeed, apart from medical marijuana administered through pills or injections, using cannabis oil in cooking is among the surest ways to get your prescribed dose.

Eating cannabis-infused dishes also eases the patient into developing a more positive response to food and eating. Think of it as a form of exposure therapy. Finally, infused edibles have more balanced, longer-lasting effects as the cannabinoids you need are delivered through the bloodstream. It also removes the social stigma from being seen smoking or vaping, cannabis or not.

Appetite Suppressants

If you need to regulate your intake of food, such as in binge-eating disorder, there are strains called “skinny pot” or “skinny weed” that contain high CBD and/or tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), cannabinoids that suppress appetite.

XJ-13 is among the most popular THCV-high strain. This is a sativa-dominant hybrid of Jack Herer and G13 Haze is a potent therapeutic cannabis strain, which results into a cerebral buzz that triggers creativity and stress relief. It also has a citrusy aroma and does not induce paranoia, making it a popular choice for novices.

Durban Poison is a world-famous pure sativa breed from the port city of Durban in South Africa. Its high CBD content is perfect for productivity, with its sweet aroma and uplifting effects.

Another high-CBD strain is Cannatonic, a hybrid first produced in Spain by crossing a female MK Ultra and a male G13 Haze. It’s used to treat pain, muscle spasms, anxiety, and a host of other physiological and psychological symptoms, with its relaxing, mellow effects. It has a citrusy flavor that’s famous among both beginners and long-time users.

ACDC is a sativa-dominant phenotype of Cannatonic, with a remarkable CBD:THC ratio of 20:1. This makes it an ideal strain for clear-headed calmness and relaxation. This also helps patients to treat pain and anxiety, as well as address the negative effects of chemotherapy, all without the psychoactive effects of THC.

Harlequin is a sativa-dominant strain with an almost-consisted CBD-THC ratio of 5:2, making it an effective treatment for pain and anxiety. Harlequin is also highly popular not only because of its sweet, mango-like flavor but also its relaxing, pain-relieving effects without the intoxicating side-effects.


Appetite Inducers

Most eating disorders are associated with an aversion to food or negative perceptions about eating. Using THC-high strains of cannabis will help trigger the release of ghrelin and kickstart “the munchies” to effectively address lack of appetite, even as it calms the stomach from gastrointestinal distress.

Goo is a potent indica that brings about a strong wave of sedating effects along with an appetite boost. This makes it ideal for nighttime consumption, so you can rest peacefully after a good meal. This 80% indica strain has a sweet-tasting blueberry flavor, and is also used to treat insomnia due to its high THC content.

Despite its devilish name, Diablo has a gentler effect compared to other indicas. This strain may still be able to bring about a couchlock effect, though it’s more likely to get case of the giggles when you take this strain. The fruity and spicy flavors of Diablo deliver 15 to 20% of THC to the body, making it an effective appetite stimulant and body relaxant.

Monster Cookies is a hybrid of Girl Scout Cookies and Granddaddy Purple that delivers a one-two punch of the munchies and relaxation. The sleepy effects, in fact, increase over time, which makes for an even more relaxing sleep as the night goes on.

Caramelo may be a sativa-dominant hybrid, but it has indica origins stemming from the Lavender family that gives it a floral aroma. This strain delivers pain and nausea relief, as well as an appetite boost, coupled with an uplifting buzz, making Caramelo an ideal daytime strain.

Orange Skunk, as its name suggests, has a sweet-sour smell. It delivers strong physical effects, among a myriad of benefits such as anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and anxiolytic effects. It’s also helped to treat depression, fibromyalgia, and lack of appetite.

Eating disorders have an accompanying stigma that is difficult to overcome. However, as with mental disorders, one key to addressing these illnesses is acceptance and a dependable support system from the patient’s family and social circle and doctors. Consistent use of appropriate medication also helps maintain relatively normal eating habits to ensure that the body receives the nutrition it needs. Whether these medications are the traditional prescriptions or alternative medicines like cannabis, the more important thing is that the patient is kept physically healthy so that they may be able to manage the disease’s mental aspects.

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