Evidence based

CBD & Anorexia: Current Research & Understanding

Is CBD oil effective for treating anorexia? This eating disorder is a complex psychological condition with severe side effects. CBD oil is reported to boost appetite, lower anxiety, and improve mood and depression. Here’s how it works.

Article By
Justin Cooke , posted 1 month ago

According to data from the National Eating Disorder Association, as many as 30 million people are thought to suffer from eating disorders like anorexia in the United States alone. 

The eating disorder can wreak havoc throughout the body through widespread nutritional deficiencies. 

Compared to other mental illness, anorexia nervosa has one of the highest death rates of them all. Treatment of anorexia should address both psychological and physical problems. 

Pharmaceuticals aren’t always the answer when it comes to physical health. It’s important to find new, effective methods of boosting hunger levels and the desire to eat in these individuals. 

Here, we discuss how CBD oil can increase hunger and lower the impact anorexia has on the body. 

We talk about our top 3 CBD oils for the job, and how you can start using it today.

  • Table of Contents

What is Anorexia Nervosa?

Anorexia nervosa refers to a medical condition where sufferers purposely restrict their own energy intake in order to prevent weight gain.

It’s most often associated with a body dysmorphia – a mental disorder where the sufferer becomes obsessed with perceived flaws that are actually nonexistent.

It’s common in people who suffer from anxiety or poor self-esteem, and it’s important to point out that the condition is a lot more complicated than it sounds.

People with anorexia often have underlying issues driving the condition such as:

  • Intense fear of gaining weight
  • Disturbed body image
  • Social anxiety disorder
  • Depression
  • History of abuse
  • Social isolation

This condition often makes people see themselves as overweight when they are already dangerously underweight and malnourished.

The Signs & Symptoms Of Anorexia

  • Amenorrhea (lack of a period)
  • Anemia
  • Brittle nails
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration
  • Dizziness
  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Heart conditions
  • Kidney failure
  • Liver damage
  • Low blood pressure
  • Osteoporosis
  • Poor immune function
  • Poor wound healing
  • Seizures
  • Severe weight loss

Risk Factors for Anorexia

Since this condition is a psychological disorder, the causes are complex and can vary a lot from one person to the next.

Some causes include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Genetic factors
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Depression
  • Bullying
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Family abuse

Conventional Support For Anorexia

Since anorexia is primarily a psychological condition, the main treatments doctors employ are regular therapy sessions, anti-anxiety medications, and antidepressants.

The main goal of treatment is to address issues with self-esteem and any underlying conditions such as depression or anxiety.

If you are suffering from anorexia, please talk to your healthcare professional and seek professional help. Remember you are not alone and there are several support groups online such as Looking Glass.

How CBD Oil Helps with Anorexia

There are a number of herbal supplements that are able to improve anorexia nervosa by increasing hormones involved with hunger and satiety – the feeling of being full.

Perhaps the most important option is cannabis.

You may be familiar with a common stereotype of people who use marijuana:

They eat A LOT.

Well, this isn’t a myth.

Many of the cannabinoids in the cannabis plant have been shown to increase our hunger levels, the most significant is THC.

The problem with this is that, since THC is the main cannabinoid responsible for the psychoactive effects of cannabis, it is still forbidden in many countries and US states. For this reason, most CBD oils on the market contain less than 0.03% THC content.

But not to worry! There is more than one way in which CBD oil can help relieve the symptoms of anorexia:

1. Improving Mood

CBD oil offers a surprising range of mood enhancement benefits.

This is important because a low mood is often considered one of the main drivers of anorexia.

Antidepressant drugs such as SSRI or SNRI medications are a popular choice among doctors for treating this condition.

In the case of the cannabis plant, the most significant effect on mood comes from CBD itself, which has been shown to relieve depressive symptoms in animals [3].

Other compounds in the full-spectrum oil, such as terpenes (borneol, eucalyptol, limonene, beta-caryophyllene, and d-linalool) have also been reported to have extra antidepressant and mood-enhancing effects.

Other cannabinoids, such as cannabichromene (CBC) have also shown to offer antidepressant activity [4].

CBC, like CBD, is non-psychoactive and is the third most abundant cannabinoid in the plant.

Despite many researchers reporting this cannabinoid as being even more medically relevant for things like mood and inflammation than CBD, there is still virtually no high-level research studies published on this compound.

2. Boosting Appetite

With anorexia, we can experience a massive shift in the hormones that control appetite.

Normally, when we eat a meal, our fat cells release a hormone called leptin. This hormone curbs our appetite and tells us we’re full.

Conversely, another hormone, known as ghrelin, stimulates our hunger.

People with anorexia often have dysfunctional hunger hormone balance, feeling satiated even when they should be starving.

The cannabinoids, especially THC, kickstart hunger cravings by essentially “flipping the hunger switch” in the hypothalamus of the brain [7]. It also increases the production of ghrelin — the hormone responsible for making us feel hungry [8].

THC works on this region of the brain through the CB1 receptors [5]. These receptors control a wide range of functions in the body but are especially prominent in the hypothalamus.

CBD and Appetite

Contrary to popular belief, CBD does not increase appetite. In fact, it has the opposite effect, lowering appetite overall.

I know what you’re thinking;

“Shouldn’t this be avoided with people who are suffering from anorexia then!?”

It’s not that simple.

CBD on its own has been shown to inhibit appetite, making it important to stay away from CBD isolates (products containing ONLY CBD).

However, CBD has also been shown to boost the effects of THC, including its effects on appetite, making a blend that contains both of these cannabinoids even better at boosting appetite levels overall.

This is why we always recommend using only cannabis oils that are considered “full-spectrum”. Even if the THC content is very low, these are more effective than CBD oils without any THC at all for treating anorexia.

If you live in a legal state, or in a country where cannabis oils of all kinds are legal, you’re best to go for something with a 1:1 ratio of THC to CBD.

3. Relieving Stress/Anxiety

This is the major area to be cautious of when treating anorexia with CBD oil or other cannabis oils.

CBD has been shown to lower anxiety [6], which is highly beneficial for people with anorexia nervosa.

The nervosa part of the name actually refers to the nervous and anxious nature of people suffering from this condition.

CBD oils with high levels of CBD are going to be of benefit here.

This is where it gets a bit confusing.

The problem is that CBD is better for the antidepressant and antianxiety effects, but the THC portion is going to be significantly better for appetite stimulation.

Unfortunately, CBD kills appetite, and THC can cause anxiety– so what’s the answer?

Whenever taking CBD oil for anorexia, it’s important to maintain high CBD levels to offset the negative side effects of THC. It’s useful, but not always necessary, to have at least a little bit of THC in the formula as well.

A perfect balance is going to be somewhere between 2:1 and 1:1 CBD:THC.

And remember: always choose a full spectrum CBD product.

Research Studies on THC & Anorexia

A phase II clinical trial involving 18 patients with cancer-related anorexia treated with THC found significant improvement in appetite in 13 patients [1].

Other studies have shown that THC is useful for improving appetite in AIDS patients, as well as cancer patients [2].

There’s plenty of research available on the appetite-stimulating effects of THC, but as mentioned, it’s critical that we keep the anxiety-inducing effects of this cannabinoid in mind for people with anorexia.

This is why we always recommend using something with at least a 1:1 ratio of CBD to THC or something even higher in CBD.

It’s still going to offer benefits for appetite increase and help people with anorexia find the motivation to eat more food and begin recovering from the condition.

How to Take CBD Oil for Anorexia

It’s recommended that you find an extract that contains both THC and CBD — if legal where you live, of course. This is because both of these cannabinoids have separate benefits to offer anorexia.

If THC cannabis oils aren’t legal in your state, that’s okay – CBD will offer many of the same benefits.

Stay away from CBD isolates and opt for a full-spectrum extract to avoid curbing hunger even further.

Whenever trying CBD for the first time, it’s good practice to start with a smaller dose and work your way up slowly from there.

Try with about 4 mg of CBD equivalent, and work your way up by 4 mg each day until you either experience some side effects or get the results you’re looking for.

If you experience side effects, simply lower the dose the next day.

Consider Professional Help Before Trying CBD

Of course, taking CBD oil alone isn’t going to do enough towards treating anorexia.

Seeing a therapist regularly to address self-esteem or depressive issues, as well as visiting a nutritionist or dietician to keep track of your dietary intake is going to go a LONG way in eliminating symptoms and building the body back up to a good level of health.


References

  1. Nelson, K., Walsh, D., Deeter, P., & Sheehan, F. (1994). A phase II study of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol for appetite stimulation in cancer-associated anorexia. Journal of palliative care.
  2. Misner, D. L., & Sullivan, J. M. (1999). Mechanism of cannabinoid effects on long-term potentiation and depression in hippocampal CA1 neurons. Journal of Neuroscience, 19(16), 6795-6805.
  3. R de Mello Schier, A., P de Oliveira Ribeiro, N., S Coutinho, D., Machado, S., Arias-Carrión, O., A Crippa, J., … & C Silva, A. (2014). Antidepressant-like and anxiolytic-like effects of cannabidiol: a chemical compound of Cannabis sativa. CNS & Neurological Disorders-Drug Targets (Formerly Current Drug Targets-CNS & Neurological Disorders), 13(6), 953-960.
  4. De Petrocellis, L., Orlando, P., Moriello, A. S., Aviello, G., Stott, C., Izzo, A. A., & Di Marzo, V. (2012). Cannabinoid actions at TRPV channels: effects on TRPV3 and TRPV4 and their potential relevance to gastrointestinal inflammation. Acta physiologica, 204(2), 255-266.
  5. Kirkham, T. C. (2005). Endocannabinoids in the regulation of appetite and body weight. Behavioral Pharmacology, 16(5-6), 297-313.
  6. Crippa, J. A. S., Derenusson, G. N., Ferrari, T. B., Wichert-Ana, L., Duran, F. L., Martin-Santos, R., … & Filho, A. S. (2011). Neural basis of anxiolytic effects of cannabidiol (CBD) in generalized social anxiety disorder: a preliminary report. Journal of Psychopharmacology, 25(1), 121-130.
  7. Patel, S., & Cone, R. D. (2015). Neuroscience: A cellular basis for the munchies. Nature, 519(7541), 38.
  8. Kola, B., Hubina, E., Tucci, S. A., Kirkham, T. C., Garcia, E. A., Mitchell, S. E., … & Korbonits, M. (2005). Cannabinoids and ghrelin have both central and peripheral metabolic and cardiac effects via AMP-activated protein kinase. Journal of Biological Chemistry, 280(26), 25196-25201.

Conditions that May Respond to Cannabidiol