Marijuana and eating disorders


Eating disorders are becoming a widespread phenomenon in the United States and Canada. The number of places in the U.S. that are legalizing marijuana for medicinal use is also growing rapidly. Yet rarely is an eating disorder considered a valid reason to issue a prescription (or permit) for marijuana use as medicine. Why is that?

At least 24 million Americans have an eating disorder and these disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, according to statistics from the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders (see more stats here). Also according to ANAD, about half of all people with eating disorders meet the criteria for depression, only about 10 percent of those with an eating disorder receive treatment for it, and anorexia is the third most common disorder for adolescents and the death rate for those with it is 12 times higher than the average.

All of this points towards one thing: With anorexia and similar eating disorders being chronic illnesses that are not easily treated and often going untreated, would not a simple, self-regulatory medication that is readily available and relatively low-cost be key?

Marijuana as Medicine: The Research

Research is finally paying attention to cannabis as a potential pharmacological medicine. Most of this research focuses on the endocannabinoid system (ECS) and the cannabinoids that mesh with it, specifically delta-9-THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). The ECS function and D9THC have been found to aid in food consumption and appetite regulation along with many other bodily functions and behavioral reinforcements (see NIH here).

Knowing these two things, it would seem an obvious link for the two to come together. A 2011 study in Biological Psychiatry found a link between anorexia nervosa and bulimia with a possible brain malfunction that leads to a loss in endocannabinoids. This affects the ECS function in the body, distorting appetite. Dr. Koen Van Laere, the study's lead author, said that CB1 receptor function in the brains of women with anorexia were reduced while it was increased in the insula region of the brain where body perception and reward/emotion are housed.

Yet in most areas where medical marijuana use is legal, eating disorders are not considered to be qualifying medical reasons for medicinal marijuana use. It would seem to be an obvious avenue for research and as a treatment method, would be akin to the common practice of issuing medical marijuana licenses to patients undergoing cancer treatments that reduce appetite or make it difficult to eat as a way to counteract those appetite issues.


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