Anorexia Nervosa, commonly know as just “Anorexia,” is an eating disorder in which the sufferer fears gaining weight, and often sees him or herself as overweight despite the fact that he/she is not. As of 2013, Anorexia affects about two million people around the world. Here, we’ll look at the disorder, common treatments, and how cannabis can help these patients.

What is Anorexia?

Anorexia is among the most well-known of eating disorders, globally. Due to the sufferers’ fear of being overweight, they are often dangerously underweight.

Despite being incredibly thin – even to an unhealthy extreme – patients view themselves as either overweight or barely maintaining a healthy weight.

As a result, they go to great lengths to lose weighs or keep weight off. These include excessive dieting, exercise, inducing vomit, or abusing laxatives.

Symptoms of the disorder vary widely, and most of them are serious. Along with being incredibly thin, these include:

  • Cessation of menses in females.
  • Intolerance to cold.
  • Low blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Mood swings

Startlingly, Anorexia has the highest mortality rate of all psychological disorders. This makes it among the most high-priority targets of treatment.

Traditional Treatment

Treatment for Anorexia, like any metal health disorder, is more challenging than most purely physical disorder. According to the National Mental Health Institute, treatment is focused on accomplishing 3 goals;

  1. Bringing the patient back to a healthy weight
  2. Utilizing psychotherapy to treat the disorder/s that brought on the Anorexia.
  3. Altering or eliminating behavior that brought on the disorder.

Notably, a study in 2009 found that one of the most important predictors of effective treatment is early intervention. The sooner an Anorexia suffer receives treatment, the more likely that person can return to a healthy lifestyle.

How Cannabis Can Help

In a study done on Alzheimer’s sufferers who were exhibiting anorexic symptoms, researchers found Dronabinol, a cannabis-based medication, to be more effective at treating patients than placebo. Of the patients who received cannabis-based medication, their body weight increased substantially. Tangentially, the researchers also noted that Dronabinol shows promise for treating not only Anorexia, but “disturbed behavior” in Alzheimer’s patients.

Another study examined the symptoms of abstinence from marijuana in otherwise daily users. They found that among various other symptoms, subjects suffered from Anorexia when they stopped smoking marijuana. This doesn’t seem strange: cannabis is renowned for increasing appetite in users. For treating a disorder in which users refuse to eat, cannabis seems to be the perfect fit.

Perhaps most convincingly, a 2014 study was conducted on subjects with “severe” Anorexia Nervosa. Researchers administered Dronabinol to some subjects versus placebo to others, and found that those who received the cannabis-based treatment showed a significant weight gain compared to those who received the placebo. The study notes that the medication was well tolerated and showed no serious adverse side effects.

Moving Forward

Given the current consensus that medication alone is not very beneficial for Anorexia, the hunt is still on for medications that will offer more relief for anorexic patients around the world. Cannabis is clinically proven to be of benefit. With more research it may become a widely used treatment option for anorexic patients, and coupled with the current mood of mental health treatment, may be the most effective treatment to date.