Medical Matchmaking: Cannabis and Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder in which people have a distorted
body image. Sufferers see themselves as overweight, regardless of their
actual weight, and become obsessed with food, eating, and losing weight.
People who suffer from anorexia often consume so few calories that they
become emaciated and malnourished. Anorexia nervosa itself is treated as
a mental illness, and it is often associated with other mental illnesses
such as depression and suicide.

The consequences of anorexia can be deadly. According to [U.S. News and
World
Report
](https://health.usnews.com/health-conditions/mental-health/eating-disorders/overview# 1),
90 percent of people with anorexia are young women. The disease accounts
for 86 out of 100,000 deaths among young women aged 15 to 24.

Why People With Anorexia Don’t Eat

One reason people with anorexia don’t eat is thought to be due to an
imbalance in brain chemistry. In a
study
published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, researchers found the
part of the brain that associates the taste of food with pleasure is
extremely underactive in women with anorexia. Another
study out of Italy reports
that the endocannabinoid system does not function properly in patients
with anorexia. The endocannabinoid system is tied to homeostasis — a
balance in the body’s functions — within the brain. In patients with
anorexia, however, cannabinoid receptors are dysfunctional in the
portion of the brain that plays in role in food intake.

Cannabis and Appetite

Cannabis has been linked to stimulating appetites for thousands of
years, but only in the 20th century was the connection made to look at
the chemical composition of cannabis and how it may help people with
anorexia. Studies show that delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main
psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, can successfully stimulate appetite
in both
cancer
and
AIDS
patients. Tim C.
Kirkham
,
a PhD and professor of Psychological Science at the University of
Liverpool in England, has published extensively on the neurochemistry of
appetite. He has found that THC binds to cannabinoid receptors in the
brain that are responsible for appetite. The THC not only improves
appetite
, but promotes
the rewards of
eating
,
allowing patients to experience the joy of eating again.

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