Cachexia is a condition characterized by extreme, unintentional weight loss combined with loss of muscle mass that cannot be completely explained by lowered intake of calories. Often, increasing food intake has no effect, and anorexia is commonly seen in conjunction with this condition.
Cachexia is primarily associated with cancer and HIV/AIDS, but may also be seen in cases of congestive heart failure, tuberculosis, COPD, rheumatoid arthritis, and other chronic diseases. It may also occur in the elderly without any accompanying disease.
Fifty percent to 80 percent of cancer patients will develop cachexia, usually but not always during the final stages. Whatever the cause, patients suffering cachexia have a higher mortality rate than those without.
Back in 1985, the FDA approved Dronabinol, a synthetic THC derivative, to help treat wasting associated with HIV/AIDS. In studies, oral intake of 5 mg twice daily did increase the appetite of patients, leading to increased weight gain. Dronabinol, under the brand name Marinol, has since been prescribed to combat chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting in cancer patients with some success. However, Dronabinol is prohibitively expensive to most patients.
A 2007 study by researchers at Columbia University, found that orally administered medical marijuana significantly stimulated the appetite of AIDS patients suffering from cachexia, increasing calorie intake and promoting weight gain. A second study in 2011 found that ingested THC increased appetite in cancer patients by 64 percent. THC-dominant varieties of marijuana are the most successful in treating cachexia, and research suggests that THC itself may be the effective compound. The evidence is clear that cannabis has a beneficial effect for patients suffering from cachexia.
Oral and sublingual preparations appear to be the most effective route for administration. Today there are many different types of ingestible cannabis-infused products that are very effective, including lozenges and even lollipops for patients who may have difficulty with solid foods. Sublingual drops or sprays are also an option. For those with no other serious health issues, vaporizing or smoking may be a possibility, but the other side effects of smoked marijuana make edibles a more attractive option.