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Behavior Cannabidiol (CBD) Medical Marijuana

Is Marijuana a Safe Way to Treat Eating Disorders?

4 months ago

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Posted on Jan 17, 2022, 10 p.m.

As one of the most consumed drugs in the world, marijuana is the go-to option for a wide variety of ailments beyond legal or illegal recreational use. Research now suggests the potential use of marijuana to offer positive results for severe issues such as glaucoma, seizures, and spasticity. But when it comes to eating disorders, the use of marijuana is either celebrated as a breakthrough remedy or discouraged as a dangerous option. So is marijuana a safe way to treat eating disorders? 

Connecting Marijuana and Eating Disorders

To answer this question, we first need to define the term. Eating disorders, as defined by the National Institute of Mental Health, are “serious and often fatal illnesses associated with severe disturbances in people’s eating behaviors and related thoughts and emotions.” This means that eating disorders are complex psychological issues that go beyond simple, dismissive issues of lifestyle choice. This is why the typically prescribed medication for eating disorders includes antidepressants and mood stabilizers. 

Additionally, rare diseases such as Addison’s disease, a condition where the body’s adrenal glands do not produce enough cortisol, can cause a wide range of side effects, such as a loss of appetite. Since eating disorders often occur as part of a dual diagnosis, the desire to replace typical medication treatment has gained popularity in recent years. 

Meanwhile, the legalization of marijuana continues to expand in various states, along with more consumption options, such as medical marijuana, CBD oils, and synthetic cannabis. The question of whether marijuana can become a mainstream solution for eating disorders continues to be asked.  But what would make marijuana a viable option for eating disorders? Is there science behind the stereotype that marijuana gives people “the munchies”? 

One scientist claims that there is a clear connection between eating disorders and marijuana- and it has to do with the brain’s reward system. Food is meant to be associated with euphoric feelings of reward, and this plays a role in developing an appetite for various types of food. Those struggling with eating disorders do not have a mental connection between food and reward. 

Instead, the connection is made between food and anxiety or fear. This results in people avoiding food altogether. The brain’s neurotransmitter in the region called the insula is almost always underactive in those who struggle with eating disorders such as anorexia, and many claim that the use of marijuana can produce the effects that are lacking in the underactive neurotransmitters of those with eating disorders.

Marijuana: Cure or Culprit?

It might seem that the potential of marijuana is nothing but promising. But there is more to think about before concluding that marijuana is, in fact, a safe option to treat or even cure eating disorders. One important piece of published research suggesting the opposite is worth mentioning. A woman was treated in the hospital for all the normal symptoms of an eating disorder. But after checking her medical history and investigating further, it was determined that her eating disorder was due to an underlying condition called CWS: cannabis withdrawal syndrome. 

This brings up the fact that marijuana can be addictive- even if the addiction is psychological rather than chemical. While marijuana is not understood to be nearly as addictive as opioids or stimulants, the dangerous point about using marijuana is the possibility that the illicit purchase of marijuana comes with the added risk of being cut and laced with some or all of these drugs, which are highly addictive. And when these other drugs unintentionally become part of the equation, it’s very likely that an eating disorder can go from bad to worse. 

But even if marijuana is purchased legally from an official source, this does not avoid the risk of making an eating disorder worse instead of better. A study published by Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology showed that the majority of long-term marijuana users had been diagnosed with panic disorders. Panic disorders are among the possible withdrawal symptoms of marijuana, so this seems like a dangerous cycle to get caught in. Especially when it comes to using marijuana for the sole purpose of improving your pre-existing eating disorder symptoms.

The Risk of Long Term Dependency 

People who use marijuana will either experience its reward euphoria, negative feelings, or a mix of both. Since marijuana inhibits two types of neurons in the brain, the positive or negative feelings are determined by which of these neurons are inhibited during use. Because of the psychological component of eating disorders, this means that marijuana use is a gamble at best. 

If the negative effects are experienced instead of the euphoria, it will make things worse for those who already struggle. But because of the psychological component of using marijuana, a good experience of its positive effects can very likely lead to long-term dependency. When this occurs, any attempt to quit using marijuana in the future could result in drug rebound anxiety, which will have a negative impact on mental health, anxiety, and the eating disorder that marijuana was thought to fix in the first place. For these reasons, marijuana doesn’t seem to be a safe solution to deal with eating disorders, especially as a long-term option.

This article was written by Kevin Morris from the Delphi Behavioral Health Group, a dedicated family of facilities committed to offering individualized treatment for all levels of addiction working to treat it at its core to provide those suffering with the tools to start a journey of long-lasting recovery.

As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before making any changes to your wellness routine.

Content may be edited for style and length.

Materials provided by:

Mayo Clinic. (2020, November, 18). Marijuana. Retrieved https://www.mayoclinic.org/drugs-supplements-marijuana/art-20364974

National Institute on Mental Health (2016, February). Eating Disorders. Retrieved https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/eating-disorders

Mayo Clinic (2020, Nov. 24). Addison’s Disease. Retrieved https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/addisons-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20350293

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). A Guide to Dual Diagnosis Treatment. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/treatment-guide/dual-diagnosis/

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Effect of Marijuana Legalization on Addiction Rates in California. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/marijuana/legalization-addiction-rates/

Psychology Today. (2012, April 9). The Connection Between Anorexia, Bulimia, and Marijuana. Retrieved https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-food/201204/the-connection-between-anorexia-bulimia-and-marijuana

National Institute of Health (2017, March 01). Addison's Disease and Possible Cannabis Withdrawal Syndrome Presenting as an Eating Disorder in a Thirty-Year-Old Female. Retrieved https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5350486/

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Can Marijuana Cause Addiction? What You Should Know. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/blog/negative-effects-of-marijuana/

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). What Is Marijuana Most Commonly Cut With & Why?. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/drug-cutting/marijuana/

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Weed & Panic Attacks: Why They Happen & What to Do. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/marijuana/panic-attacks/

National Institute on Drug Abuse (2018, March, 08). Why Marijuana Displeases. Retrieved https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2018/03/why-marijuana-displeases

Delphi Health Group. (n.d.). Drug Rebound Anxiety: What Is It & How to Recover From or Avoid It. Retrieved https://delphihealthgroup.com/treatment-guide/rebound-anxiety/



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