Eating disorders are among the most dangerous and misunderstood mental illnesses, and patients often have trouble finding treatment that helps them achieve a full recovery. Research into medical cannabis provides some enlightenment on treating eating disorders safely, naturally, and effectively. Read on to learn more about how medical cannabis can help to treat eating disorders.
Examining the Types of Eating Disorders
When eating disorders are portrayed on television or in the movies, they often center around a person’s desire to be thin, but at their root, eating disorders are much more than that. Sometimes, people are born with genes that make them more susceptible to psychiatric disorders, and for others, eating disorders occur in conjunction with obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, or anxiety.
In some eating disorders, like anorexia and avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder (ARFID), patients limit their food intake so severely that it progressively starves their bodies and brains of vital nutrition, sometimes leading to permanent damage. Many who are diagnosed with eating disorders truly want to get better and recover from the disease but often feel like their intrusive thoughts and anxieties are trapping them in harmful behavior patterns.
Bulimia and binge-eating disorder often have some of the same underlying symptoms as restrictive eating disorders, but also pose a different set of challenges. People with these disorders are often a normal weight or can be overweight, but this does not mean that these psychiatric illnesses are any less severe. Before any eating disorder can be treated, it’s important to understand that these behaviors are symptoms of dangerous thought patterns, and the underlying thoughts must be treated before recovery can happen.
Eating Disorders and the Endocannabinoid System
The human endocannabinoid system (ECS) is one of our body’s many biological systems. It’s made up of cannabinoid receptors that are present throughout the body, and it is thought to affect many processes, including appetite, mood, sleep regulation, pain sensations, and more. The ECS was only discovered within the past 30 years, so scientists and doctors are still discovering exactly how it works, but a recent interest in medical cannabis has led to increased funding for research. The cannabis plant is loaded with compounds called cannabinoids that bind to receptors in the ECS, which is why proponents of medical cannabis believe that it can treat many conditions. Because the ECS may control so many processes throughout our bodies, medical cannabis can potentially improve mood, increase appetite, calm anxiety, ease pain, and help us sleep.
This is great news for eating disorder patients. When people with anorexia restrict food consumption for a while, eventually, their brain takes the cue and stops telling them they’re hungry. Ingesting medical cannabis can spark feelings of hunger and can help to ease the anxiety that many of those with eating disorders experience. The cannabinoids in cannabis, especially tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) bind to receptors in patients’ brains, quelling anxious feelings and increasing appetite, which is a combination for success.
While the underlying mental issues surrounding eating disorders should be treated with intensive therapy, medical cannabis promises to work well in conjunction with other treatments. In addition, some studies suggest that people who are diagnosed with eating disorders may have imbalances in the ECS. Ingesting cannabinoids can help relieve these imbalances.
The Relationship Between Eating Disorders and Anxiety Disorders
Eating disorders commonly occur in conjunction with anxiety disorders, especially OCD. Anxiety disorders and OCD can result in harmful thinking patterns that may not make sense to someone on the outside. These thoughts often cause patients to restrict certain foods, label them as “good” or “bad,” or limit food intake because of feelings of worthlessness, shame, or guilt. Obsessive and scary thoughts may in turn cause restrictive and compulsive behaviors like rearranging food on the plate, needing to eat things in a certain order, or severely limiting the number of foods that are “safe.” Also, those with an eating disorder may look in the mirror and see issues with their body that only exist in their mind. Though friends, loved ones, and medical professionals see that these thoughts and ideas logically aren’t true, the patients’ anxieties lead them to believe the opposite.
More than half of eating disorder patients are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, meaning that both of these issues need to be treated before recovery is possible. As more research is being done into medical cannabis, more information is revealed as to how ingesting cannabis can help regulate anxiety and obsessive thoughts.
Can Medical Cannabis Help?
The future of eating disorder treatment with medical cannabis seems bright. When used to treat HIV and cancer patients who lack appetite because of their treatment regimen, medical cannabis increases appetite and helps patients gain life-saving pounds. Though medical cannabis should always be used under a doctor’s supervision, eating disorder patients may find that it helps them feel less anxious and more hungry.
In many states where medical marijuana is legal, eating disorders aren’t found on the list of conditions that cannabis can be used to treat. Anxiety, however, often is. As the link between anxiety, eating disorders, and the human endocannabinoid system is researched more, medical marijuana will likely be seen as a more viable treatment option. However, because drug misuse is often higher among people with mental illnesses, it’s important to use marijuana as directed and in conjunction with other treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy. In the past, eating disorder patients may have been given psychiatric medicines with harmful side effects. Medical cannabis has fewer side effects and has been used as medicine throughout human history.
Eating disorders, especially anorexia, are among the most deadly, destructive, and chronic mental illnesses, so better treatment options must become available. If you or someone you love is struggling with an eating disorder, talk to your mental healthcare provider about medical cannabis and how it can potentially get you started on the road to recovery. Euphoria Wellness is proud to offer a wide variety of products for Maryland medical cannabis patients. Contact us for more information.