Treating Anorexia Nervosa with Medical Cannabis

Everyone is aware of “The Munchies”, the phrase used to describe the increase in appetite after using cannabis. This aspect of cannabis has medical value for people suffering from cancer, HIV/AIDS, side effects of medication and other ailments that cause a loss of appetite and there seems to be no disputing that. Many dispensaries carry different strains and types of marijuana products advertised to stimulate appetite and reduce anxiety, both applicable to those suffering Anorexia. However, until recently Anorexia Nervosa was never widely thought to be treatable using medical cannabis.

  • What is Anorexia
  • How marijuana can help
  • Prescribing Marijuana for Anorexia

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

A physical and mental prison

Anorexia Nervosa is more than not eating enough. It’s a potentially deadly mental disorder often caused by body dysmorphia, anxiety, sociocultural factors and even past trauma. People suffering from Anorexia Nervosa often lose large amounts of weight quickly, have trouble maintaining a healthy weight and binge eat instead of regular eating. Astoundingly, it is the third most common chronic disease in young people behind asthma and Type 1 diabetes. Females tend to make up around 75% of those suffering Anorexia Nervosa, however those numbers are widely thought to be skewed as males suffering from it are typically diagnosed later or not at all. This puts males at a higher risk or dying from the disorder.

When it comes to treating Anorexia Nervosa, there doesn’t seem to be a go-to solution. Some hospitals offer day and residential programs where doctors closely monitor your vital signs, hydration and electrolyte levels and overall nutrition. In some extreme cases patients are sent to psych wards and given feeding tubes, forcing them to eat. Psychotherapy is also being used to normalize eating patterns and reduce the anxiety leading to Anorexia.

How Can Cannabis Help?

The medical value of munchies

One of the most common side effects of ingesting marijuana is the stimulation of appetite. This quality of marijuana was one of the pillars to moving it from a recreational drug to a medication. For example, cancer patients going through chemotherapy and taking large amounts of pills can rely on marijuana to reduce their nausea and allow them to eat. This is due to the component Tetrahydrocannabinol, or the more recognizable THC. THC is a cannabinoid that attaches to receptors in the brain, causing feelings of euphoria, relaxation and increased appetite. The endocannabinoid system, the receptors affected, has a role in signaling reward, such as eating or not eating. This system has been noted to be underactive in people suffering from eating disorders. Thus, ingesting THC causes it to function at a higher level, making you hungry.


Dispensaries have taken note of the appetite stimulating powers of marijuana and even grow strains specifically for it. These strains tend to be indica dominant and have high levels of both THC and CBD (Cannabidiol).

So if scientists, dispensaries and people suffering Anorexia agree on it, why isn’t Anorexia on the list of approved conditions to receive medical marijuana?

Prescribing Cannabis for Anorexia

Not there yet

California, New Mexico, Maryland and Washington are the only states that accept Anorexia Nervosa as a qualifying condition to receive medical marijuana. However, almost every state with medical marijuana prescribed it for anxiety, uncontrolled weight loss and nausea.

Tamara Pryor, director of clinical research at the Eating Disorder Center of Denver doesn’t believe marijuana to be the solution for Anorexia. “Stimulating their appetite can’t necessarily overcome the neurological issues that are also intimately involved with their disorder,” she said. However, she did note, “Marijuana may be a helpful tool for some people — in conjunction with therapy.”

Even if marijuana isn’t the cure to Anorexia Nervosa, it sure seems like it relieves the symptoms and can provide much needed appetite stimulation. So what is the harm in providing that option for those suffering from Anorexia and other eating disorders?

The main worries seems to stem from the possibility of dependence on cannabis, its effect on the teenage brain, and the fact that it still isn’t federally legal.

As more research and studies are done, the effects of cannabis on Anorexia and appetite stimulation overall will ideally come to light. As for now, medical cannabis seems as though it may be at least a crutch to help fight off Anorexia Nervosa.