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Anorexia and Cannabis

Treating Anorexia Nervosa with Cannabis

Anorexia Nervosa and Cannabis

Anorexia nervosa is a serious eating disorder that is predominantly characterized by restrictive eating practices. Individuals with anorexia have a distorted perception of their body weight and see themselves as being overweight even when their actual weight falls below safe levels. The profound fear these individuals have of gaining weight results in odd or ritualistic eating habits. Individuals with anorexia may control their calorie intake by vomiting after meals or misusing laxatives, diet aids or diuretics. Anorexics may also use obsessive exercise as a way of restricting calories. While anorexia nervosa is psychological illness that distorts how one views their self-image, the effects of anorexia are devastating to the body. Symptoms of anorexia nervosa can be life threatening and include:

  • Obvious and dramatic weight loss to at least 15 percent under normal body weight
  • Preoccupation with food and calories
  • Amenorrhea
  • Brittle hair
  • Discolored skin
  • Lanugo- a soft, fine hair that grows on the face and body in an attempt to keep the body warm
  • Bone loss
  • Rapid mood swings
  • Hypokalaemia, which is a drop in the level of potassium in the blood

Perhaps the most disastrous symptom of anorexia is the damage it does to the heart. Hypokalaemia can cause abnormal heart rhythms. The loss of muscle mass due to anorexia impacts heart muscle at a preferential rate. The heart becomes smaller and weaker and can no longer efficiently maintain circulation in response to exercise. Pulse and blood pressure decrease which can lead to acute and significant cardiac damage. The toll anorexia nervosa takes on all major organ systems in the body is what contributes to its high mortality rate. Anorexia has the highest death rate of any mental illness. Between 5 percent and 20 percent of people who develop the disease will eventually die as a result of complications from it.

How Cannabis Can Help
There is evidence that the cause of anorexia nervosa may be rooted in brain chemistry. Regulation of appetite and feeding behaviors involve complex processes that occur within our brain and between our brain and peripheral organs. One neurotransmitter system that appears to play a role in signaling rewarding events such as eating is called the endocannabinoid system. The endocannabinoid system normally controls how much pleasure we derive from sensory experiences such as eating and then motivates us to repeat that experience. The endocannabinoid system is significantly underactive in women with anorexia. These women are unable to fully experience the pleasure of food.

Studies show that the endocannabinoid system interacts with the phytocannabinoids found in marijuana in a similar way to the cannabinoids present in the human body. When cannabinoids were given to mice with anorexia, the mice showed recovery of the disease and returned to a normal weight. The most urgent treatment goal for anorexics is returning to their normal weight. Cannabinoid treatment show promise for achieving this goal since there is no current traditional pharmaceutical treatment for anorexia itself.

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