Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions characterized by a persistent disturbance in eating behaviors and associated distressing thoughts and emotions . These disorders can affect physical, psychological, and social function, and they generally require proper medical attention and treatment. Despite its controversial nature, some people have found significant relief in using cannabis as part of their recovery process. However, it’s essential to understand the risks and benefits of integrating this substance into treatment.
Eating disorders involve an excessive focus on weight, body shape, and food, which can lead to dangerous eating behaviors.The most common types of eating disorders include:
Severe food restriction, leading to significant weight loss and a distorted perception of body weight.
Binge eating followed by purging or other compensatory behaviors, such as excessive exercise or fasting.
Consuming large amounts of food in a short period, often accompanied by feelings of shame or guilt.
Eating disorders can have serious consequences on an individual’s health and well-being, including:
According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), it is estimated that 20 million women and 10 million men in the US will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. The most common types of eating disorders in the US are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, and it’s estimated that binge eating disorder is the most prevalent.
The causes of eating disorders are complex and multifaceted, involving a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. While research in this area continues to evolve, some of the possible causes of eating disorders include:
It is essential to note that eating disorders can affect individuals of any gender, age, race, or socioeconomic status. Despite the misconceptions, they are not caused by a lack of willpower.
Cannabis use has become increasingly popular for both medical and recreational purposes, and it may have an impact on appetite and eating behaviors. In this section, we will explore the potential benefits and risks of using cannabis to treat eating disorders, as well as the possible side effects.
It is essential to note that cannabis use is not a medically-advised treatment for eating disorders. While some individuals may find it helpful for managing symptoms, it can also have negative consequences for mental and physical health. Anyone with an eating disorder should seek professional treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.
Cannabis usage may affect appetite and eating behaviors through its interaction with the endocannabinoid system in the body. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for regulating various physiological processes, including appetite and metabolism. The cannabinoids found in cannabis may stimulate the release of certain hormones that can increase appetite. However, these specific appetite effects can vary based on the strain and dosage.
Cannabis is known for stimulating the appetite, and this is commonly known as the “munchies”. Increased appetite can potentially help people with eating disorders who struggle with a lack of appetite or have a distorted relationship with food. According to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, cannabis use can lead to a significant increase in calorie intake, making it a potential treatment option for individuals with anorexia nervosa or other eating disorders.
Anxiety is a common co-occurring condition in individuals with eating disorders. Cannabis has been shown to have anxiolytic effects, which means it can help reduce anxiety. This could potentially benefit individuals with eating disorders who struggle with anxiety around food and eating. According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, cannabis use was associated with a reduction in anxiety and depression symptoms in patients with psychiatric disorders.
Individuals with eating disorders often experience physical pain and discomfort related to their condition. Cannabis has been shown to have analgesic effects, meaning it can help reduce pain. This could potentially benefit individuals with eating disorders who experience physical pain related to their condition. According to a study published in the Journal of Pain, cannabis use was associated with a reduction in chronic pain in patients with multiple sclerosis.
Cannabis may help to regulate mood and improve depressive symptoms, which are common in individuals with eating disorders. THC has been shown to have antidepressant effects, while CBD may have mood-stabilizing effects.
Cannabis use has been associated with an increased risk of psychiatric symptoms, such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis. This could potentially worsen symptoms in individuals with eating disorders who already struggle with psychiatric symptoms. According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, cannabis use was associated with an increased risk of depression and anxiety symptoms in patients with psychiatric disorders.
Cannabis use has been associated with impaired cognitive functioning, including memory, attention, and executive functioning. This could potentially impact individuals with eating disorders who are already struggling with cognitive symptoms related to their condition. According to a study published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology, cannabis use was associated with impaired cognitive functioning in heavy cannabis users.
Cannabis use has the potential to become addictive, with up to 9% of users developing a cannabis use disorder. This could potentially worsen symptoms in individuals with eating disorders who already struggle with addiction. According to a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, cannabis use was associated with a higher risk of substance use disorder in patients with psychiatric disorders.
Like any medication or substance, cannabis can have side effects. Some potential side effects of cannabis usage include:
Individuals with eating disorders may be more susceptible to these side effects due to the physiological changes that occur as a result of their condition. For example, individuals with anorexia nervosa may already have low blood pressure, making them more susceptible to dizziness and lightheadedness .
Medical treatments for eating disorders often involve the use of medications to address both physical and emotional symptoms. However, cannabis, which has been used medicinally for centuries, is a controversial treatment option that is increasingly being considered as a complementary therapy for eating disorders. Here, we will explore the potential benefits and risks of using cannabis as a complementary therapy for individuals with eating disorders, and how healthcare providers can determine if cannabis is a suitable treatment option for their patients.
The most effective treatments for eating disorders are a combination of psychotherapy, medication, and nutritional counseling. The following are some of the available treatment options:
Psychotherapy aims to help individuals with eating disorders understand the underlying psychological issues that contribute to their condition. One of the most common types of psychotherapy used for eating disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT helps individuals identify and change negative thought patterns and behaviors related to their eating disorder.
Medications can help manage underlying symptoms such as anxiety and depression. Antidepressants such as fluoxetine and sertraline are commonly used in the treatment of bulimia nervosa and binge eating disorder.
Nutritional counseling is an essential component of eating disorder treatment. Registered dietitians work with individuals to develop a healthy meal plan that meets their nutritional needs while also addressing their eating disorder.
Residential treatment is a highly structured program that provides intensive treatment for individuals with severe eating disorders. In residential treatment, individuals receive 24-hour care from a team of healthcare professionals, including therapists, dietitians, and medical doctors. People often transition into other outpatient therapies after completing residential treatment.
When evaluating whether cannabis may be an appropriate treatment option for their patients with eating disorders, healthcare providers should consider a range of factors, including:
"Eating disorders vary from person to person, but there are common warning signs. For anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder, these signs can include excessive talk about weight or calories, a limited diet, and binge eating on calorie-dense foods. People with anorexia nervosa may excessively exercise or fidget. Some individuals with eating disorders may avoid weight gain following meals by inducing vomiting or abusing laxatives, diuretics, and diet pills. People with eating disorders may avoid social eating settings and eat alone. In avoidant restrictive food intake disorder, excessive concerns with weight and shape are generally absent, but those affected are at risk of malnutrition due to very selective eating."
"Eating disorders do not have a single cause, but they often cluster in families, indicating that genetic vulnerability plays a significant role. Environmental factors, such as pressure to diet, weight loss related to a medical condition or life stressor, can also trigger the onset of an eating disorder, especially in adolescence or young adulthood. Losing those first five to 10 pounds, in someone who is genetically vulnerable, seems to make further dieting increasingly compelling and rewarding."
"Recovery from an eating disorder requires a team, including family, friends, medical, and mental health professionals. If someone you know has been diagnosed with an eating disorder, list signs or changes in behavior you have noticed and are concerned about. Help locate a treatment provider and offer to go with your friend or relative to an evaluation. Be prepared that the affected individual may be uncertain or ambivalent about seeking treatment. Treatment helps those affected with an eating disorder to change what they do. It helps them normalize unhealthy eating and weight control behaviors and challenge the irrational thoughts that sustain them."
"Eating disorders can affect individuals of any age and any gender, although they are most common in younger women. Some have had an eating disorder all their life, and others were only mildly affected until some life event triggers clinical worsening."
"Overeating occasionally is normal, but binge eating is the frequent consumption of a large amount of food associated with a sense of loss of control over eating. Bingeing is usually secretive and accompanied by feelings of embarrassment, shame, depression and guilt over the behavior. It often includes eating rapidly, until uncomfortably full, or when not hungry. Food addiction is a controversial term used by some researchers to describe parallels between the difficulties some people experience in limiting eating and substance addiction. It is difficult to identify one food that underlies "food addiction." Similarly, the withdrawal syndrome caused by dependence on a drug of abuse is hard to demonstrate in overeaters."
"Research on eating disorders is progressing rapidly. Evidence-based treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and family-based therapy (FBT), are effective in treating eating disorders. Another promising area of research involves the use of digital technology, such as smartphone apps and virtual reality, to enhance the delivery and accessibility of treatment. These tools can provide support and resources to individuals with eating disorders, as well as help clinicians monitor and track progress."
"Medication can be a helpful component of treatment for some individuals with eating disorders, particularly those with co-occurring mental health conditions such as depression or anxiety. However, medication alone is not typically sufficient to treat an eating disorder. Instead, it is often used in conjunction with psychotherapy, nutritional counseling, and other forms of support.
Some medications that have been studied in the treatment of eating disorders include antidepressants, antipsychotics, and anti-anxiety medications. These medications may help to reduce symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive thoughts related to food and weight.
It is important to note, however, that medication can have side effects and may not be appropriate for everyone. Any decision to use medication in the treatment of an eating disorder should be made in consultation with a qualified healthcare professional."
There are a variety of resources available for individuals with eating disorders and their families. These include:
The legal and regulatory considerations surrounding cannabis usage for individuals with eating disorders can be complex and vary by state. Currently, 36 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical cannabis use, while 15 states have legalized recreational use. However, the federal government still classifies cannabis as a Schedule I drug, which means it is illegal under federal law .
For individuals with eating disorders, cannabis can be an effective treatment option. However, before considering cannabis use, it is important to understand the legal and regulatory considerations in your particular state.
State and federal laws can impact access to cannabis as a treatment for eating disorders. While many states have legalized medical cannabis use, it is still illegal under federal law. This classification creates several obstacles for individuals seeking cannabis treatment for eating disorders.
One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of federal regulation, which can result in inconsistent quality and purity of cannabis products. If you buy cannabis off the street, there is a chance of it being laced with hazardous or toxic substances. Additionally, insurance companies are not required to cover the cost of medical cannabis treatment, which can be a barrier for some patients.
However, some states have enacted laws that protect medical cannabis patients from discrimination in the workplace or in school settings. It is important to research your state’s laws and regulations to understand your rights and access to medical cannabis treatment.
Using cannabis to treat eating disorders without proper medical guidance can have legal consequences. In some states, individuals can face criminal charges for using cannabis without a medical card or prescription.
Additionally, using cannabis without proper medical guidance can be dangerous. For this reason, it’s important to be honest with your healthcare professional about either using or intending to use cannabis, especially if you struggle with an eating disorder.
The signs and symptoms of eating disorders can vary depending on the type of disorder an individual is experiencing and the severity, frequency, and duration of their symptoms. However, some common warning signs of eating disorders include:
It’s essential to note that individuals with eating disorders may try to hide or downplay their symptoms, making it challenging for their loved ones to recognize the signs. Therefore, it’s crucial to look for changes in eating patterns, mood, and behavior that persist over time.
Recognizing the signs and symptoms of eating disorders can be challenging, especially if an individual is trying to hide their symptoms. However, some common behaviors that can indicate an eating disorder include:
If you suspect that you or someone you know may have an eating disorder, it’s crucial to seek help immediately. The earlier an individual receives treatment, the better their chances of recovery.
NEDA supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders, and serves as a catalyst for prevention, cures and access to quality care. They offer a helpline, support groups, and a wealth of information on their website.
This organization offers education, support, and inspiration to eating disorder sufferers, their loved ones, and eating disorders treatment providers. They provide resources and recovery tools.
A non-profit organization dedicated to providing support, community, and hope to those affected by eating disorders. They offer a variety of services including support groups, education, and advocacy.
This organization provides grant funding for people with eating disorders who cannot afford treatment, promotes healthy body image and self-esteem, and serves as a testament that full recovery from an eating disorder is possible.
This is a national center for eating disorders recovery providing comprehensive treatment for anorexia, bulimia, binge eating disorder, and other unspecified eating disorders.
This is the UK's eating disorder charity. They provide information and support through helplines, online support groups, and a network of UK-wide self-help groups to help adults and young people in the UK beat their eating disorders.
Renfrew provides women suffering from anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and related mental health problems with the tools they need to succeed in recovery and in life. It offers a full range of services including residential, day treatment, intensive outpatient, and outpatient programs.
ANAD is a non-profit organization working in the areas of support, awareness, advocacy, referral, education, and prevention. ANAD is the oldest organization aimed at fighting eating disorders in the United States.