Some research suggests that the internal marijuana neurotransmitter system may be at play in the brains of people with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. The endocannabinoid system is a network of receptors and enzymes in the brain.
Those with eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia have a compromised endocannabinoid system.
Marijuana and hemp both come from the same genus, Cannabis L. There are more than 400 compounds in cannabis, but THC and CBD are the ones most often studied. It is THC that activates the brain’s cannabinoid receptors.
The stimulation sets off a cascade of biochemical responses that produce marijuana’s psychoactive and physiological effects. Although evidence shows that cannabidiol interacts with THC to generate drowsiness, it is not nearly as well recognized or understood. It may have anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective, or antipsychotic properties, although these are all hypothetical and need more study.
Neurological Effects of Marijuana
The endogenous endocannabinoid system has been shown to play a crucial role in signaling rewarding events, such as eating or restricting, among the numerous mechanisms involved in the control of hunger and feeding habits.
Researchers at Belgium’s Katholieke Universiteit Leuven examined the endocannabinoid system in the brains of 30 anorexic and bulimic women using PET (positron emission tomography) imaging.
Anorexic and bulimic individuals were shown to have considerably lower activity in a brain region associated with the marijuana-like neurotransmitter system. The insula was shown to be the site of the brain region with the lowest levels of neurotransmitter activity. Integrating the sensory experience of eating with the emotional reaction that it elicits is the job of the insula.
There is a close relationship between the insula and our perception of food’s physical qualities, such as flavor and oral texture, and our hunger levels; the insula also plays a role in determining the satiating qualities of food.
Feelings may be influenced by a broad variety of stimuli. The insula is responsible for processing sensory input from the body, including pain, warmth, sensual touch, stomach acidity, and intestinal strain (such as constipation).
When these subjective sensations are combined, a more complete picture of the body’s condition emerges. The insula is a brain region where sensory information about food, feelings about food, and rationalizations for avoiding eating all converge.
The endocannabinoid system in the brain regulates the level of pleasure we get from sensory inputs. Once we’ve experienced that level of pleasure, we want more and more of it.
An imbalance in the endocannabinoid system in the brain may underlie compulsive eating and emotional outbursts that make little sense. This new knowledge may lead to the discovery of other drug targets for treating eating disorders.
Research by Tamas Horvath of Yale University in New Haven suggests that the CB1 receptors in our bodies may hold the key. Dronabinol, a medicine used to treat nausea and a component of cannabis, activates cannabinoid 1 (CB1) receptors, which are present in every cell in the body. This causes the production of hormones that make us hungry. It has been shown that inhibiting this activation might also lead to weight reduction .
Complex Relationships Between Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders
Marijuana’s potential for widespread legalization may have far-reaching consequences for people with eating disorders and other mental health conditions. One study found that 1 in 9 persons who consistently used marijuana developed a dependency on the drug.
Many individuals who regularly use weed report that the THC elevates their anxiety and triggers panic attacks. Twenty percent to thirty percent of recreational users report greater anxiety, according to studies. This is truest for individuals who have never used marijuana.
Individuals with bipolar illness who also use marijuana are more likely to have manic episodes and to cycle more rapidly between high and low emotions. It has been shown that individuals who have already been diagnosed with a psychotic condition may have a worsening of their symptoms and prognosis due to their marijuana usage.
Since medical marijuana is less invasive than a feeding tube, it may be useful in the refeeding process for anorexic patients. The patient may choose to eat instead of being forced to.
In the latter phases of recovery from an eating problem, marijuana may play a role in relational therapy and the pursuit of novel insights.
The appetite-stimulating and weight-maintaining effects of THC in a 7-month longitudinal trial of 94 AIDS patients at dosages ranging from 5 to 20 mg were verified.
The Nationwide Legalization of Marijuana
The number of U.S. jurisdictions where medical marijuana is now allowed is expanding quickly. Marijuana for medical purposes is seldom issued or prescribed for people with eating issues.
Around 50% of people with eating disorders also fulfill the diagnostic criteria for major depressive disorder and/or anxiety .
Anorexia and bulimia have been linked to a possible malfunction in the brain that results in a decrease of the endocannabinoids, according to a 2011 research published in Biological Psychiatry.
There have been just 31 studies done on the therapeutic effects of marijuana, despite the fact that it is allowed in Canada for medicinal usage . The American Medicinal Association also found that there wasn’t enough data to draw any firm conclusions on medical marijuana’s effectiveness.
Due to the wide availability of FDA approved medications for pain relief (especially nerve pain), appetite stimulation for people with AIDS wasting syndrome or eating disorders, and control of chemotherapy-related nausea and vomiting, the IOM has stated that marijuana should only be considered for treatment when patients do not get relief from currently available medicines [5, 7].
Due to the substance possibly having conflicting effects in the brain depending on dosage and innate genetic sensitivity, new research investigating the use of marijuana as a therapy for mental diseases are equivocal.
To sum up, marijuana may have some positive effects for those with eating disorders, but more research and clinical trials are needed to see how effective it might be in the treatment of these conditions.
It’s crucial to look at how the eating disorder community is affected by the widespread legalization of medicinal marijuana. Is it possible that medicinal marijuana may help those suffering from anorexia? Can you explain the pros and cons?
Medical marijuana’s potential for treating anorexia
Medical marijuana is often used as an appetite stimulant for patients with various significant medical problems, but there is very little data on its use in treating eating disorders. Those suffering from anorexia nervosa, who are typically disconnected from their hunger signals, may find this to be an effective way to stimulate their appetite.
A previous research  shown that regular marijuana use might lead to a 40 percent increase in calorie consumption. Marijuana’s major chemical ingredient, THC, boosts metabolism, and this research found that it also led to increased eating across all contexts.
Restoration of weight during the first phases of recovery from an eating disorder may benefit from an increase in appetite and snacking habits. Later on in treatment, it may be claimed that the sedative effects of medicinal marijuana could aid in the management of co-occurring anxiety or associated disorders.
Certainly, the advantages of medicinal marijuana are still up for debate, especially in the field of mental health. Substance addiction and eating problems often occur together, and medicinal marijuana may be used to treat both diseases.
Furthermore, a patient should obtain therapy from several sources rather than just medicinal marijuana. This medicine, like any medication used to treat an eating problem, must be used in combination with other treatments such as counseling, nutritional monitoring, etc.
Your treatment team is in the best position to assist you decide whether medicinal marijuana might be beneficial to your healing process. Please be aware that everyone responds differently to THC. Tell your support group if you think it may be contributing to your eating problem or making your situation worse.
Increased funding for studies into the efficacy of medicinal marijuana for treating anorexia nervosa is warranted.