Marijuana As A Treatment For Eating Disorders?

There is a great deal of stigmatism about weight in the United States. While there is some media about self-acceptance and building confidence we constantly encounter a barrage of messages (whether intentional or not) through adds, television, magazines, the internet, celebrities that show unrealistic body images. Articles in magazines emphasize quick fix weight loss on the front cover along with celebrities in scant clothing or stories about how someone famous gained 20 pounds (The horror! The horror!).  I feel like I see advertisements such as

Every time I’m on the internet.  And we do have unrealistic expectations.

  Average U.S. Woman Barbie Doll Store Mannequin
Height 5’4’’ 6’0’’ 6’0’’
Weight 145 lbs. 101 lbs. N/A
Dress size 11-14 4 6
Bust 36-37’’ 39’’ 34’’
Waist 29-31’’ 19’’ 23’’
Hips 40-42’’ 33’’ 334’’

Sonenklar, Carol. 2011. Anorexia and Bulimia (USA Today Health Reports: Diseases and Disorders. ) Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books.

It’s no wonder that rates of eating disorders continue to increase. A little over a year ago one of the girls I babysat for in high school was diagnosed with anorexia. She is 12 years old. This is when eating disorders got real for me.

First, a few factoids about eating disorders

  1. An eating disorder is characterized by abnormal eating patterns that attempt to satisfy a psychological rather than physical need. The three most common disorders are anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. Anorexia nervosa is characterized by self-starvation, weight loss, an irrational fear of gaining weight, and a distorted body image. Bulima nervosa is characterized by a cycle of compulsive binging followed by purging through various means, such as vomiting, laxative/diuretic abuse, and extreme exercising. Binge eating disorder is the most common disorder and is characterized by frequent periods of compulsive overeating without accompanying purging behaviors.[i]
  2. Nearly 10 million females and 1 million males have a form of anorexia or bulimia in the United States. Millions more are struggling with compulsive eating disorder. Additionally, over 70 million people worldwide struggle with an eating disorder.[ii]
  3. Forty percent of new cases of anorexia are in girls between the ages of 15 and 19.[iii]

Marijuana in the Brain

Marijuana has 2 active chemicals: tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol, both of which are linked in the endocannabinoid neurotransmitter system. The endocannabinoid system works backwards from many other neurotransmitters because it releases signals from the post-synaptic  neuron to the CB1 and CB2 receptors on the pre-synaptic neuron as shown in the diagram below.

THC has been related through studies to the psychoactive, munchies, addictive qualities of marijuana and in high doses can cause or increase anxiety. There have also been studies that show that endocannabinoids interact with the dopamine system, playing a role in drug taking and seeking behaviors. [iv] Cannabidiol has been related to the therapeutic effects which is why marijuana is used in cancer treatments,pain relief, and has also been used as a treatment for schizophrenia.

Marijuana as a treatment for eating disorders

Marijuana has also been used as a way to help AIDS patients maintain a healthy weight as an effect of their disease they lose appetite and stop eating. This is part of the premise of using marijuana as a way to help gain or lose weight because of it’s link to the reward system and studies have shown that endocannabinoids CB1 receptors in the hypothalamus play a large role in food intake. Obviously, this is a very simplified synopsis of how the endocannabinoid system could be linked in a way that would help with the treatment of eating disorders. There is a lot that is still unknown about the endocannabinoid system and all of the parts of the brain of which it is an integral part. One of the objections that one could make about using marijuana as a medical treatment is that it is not specific enough to the effected brain area. Even if scientists were able to create synthetic products to emulate the positive effects of the drug without the addictive or psychoactive effects, there is currently no way to target specifically the hypothalamus, if that is the only part of the brain that is needed to be targeted with eating disorders. Is there enough known about the diseases or the endocannabinoid system to use it as a treatment? Another part to take into consideration is that a large part of the disease is about body image and perception, and while the treatment may help patients gain weight or change some stimuli of eating to positive, is that going to help with body image?

The legalization of marijuana is a complicated subject and there is a lot that we do not know about how the drug effects out brain. It has been shown to have therapeutic effects, whether or not those effects can help with eating disorder treatment is also very complicated and could use more research.

If you or someone you know have an eating disorder or you would like more information about eating disorders visit

[i] Sonenklar, Carol. 2011. Anorexia and Bulimia (USA Today Health Reports: Diseases and Disorders. ) Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books.

[ii] Sonenklar, Carol. 2011. Anorexia and Bulimia (USA Today Health Reports: Diseases and Disorders. ) Minneapolis, MN: Twenty-First Century Books.

[iii] Eating Disorders Statistics.” National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Association Disorders. 2012. Accessed: September 29, 2012.


11 Responses

  1. If you are worried about this, plseae talk to somebody. If you’re good at hiding your true feelings, there’s a chance that nobody knows how you feel, and it’s not good to keep those feelings bottled up. Whether you talk to your parents, another relative, a friend, or a school counselor, it’s good to talk to someone. It sounds to me like you want to talk to somebody, and I know it can be scary, but the fact that you’re reaching out to us shows that you are ready to reach out to those around you, whether you realize it or not. I know what it’s like to hurt people, and I wish I would have talked to somebody sooner. Even if you think you’re just hurting yourself, that it turn hurts those that care about you, that’s how I hurt my family and friends. Just because nobody in your family has anything like this, doesn’t mean that you don’t. Just like if somebody in your family did have something it wouldn’t mean that you would too. I know it can be harder if you’re family doesn’t understand, but I know that you can do it.

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  4. Peter

    I am a 56 year old male and have a nonspecific (none of the usual causations) eating disorder.

    Physicals and psychiatric tests were all negative.

    My doctor at the free residents’ clinic at a major teaching hospital talked to his supervisors and all the could come up with was that I have an ‘eating disorder with unknown causation.’

    What makes my eating disorder unusual is that most days I can get down some protein milk shakes because I know that I need them. Dehydration is another problem, some days I have an aversion to even plain water.

    Does anyone know about this type of eating disorder?

    To the author: a factoid is an irrelevant piece of information.

    Say you write about sightseeing in Washington DC. It is a fact that the White House is in DC. It is a factoid that every 17 years there is a huge cicada population emerging in DC.

  5. Arnold Pellerin

    Eating disorders frequently appear during the teen years or young adulthood but may also develop during childhood or later in life. Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder. -“`-

    So long http://calaguas.orgds Arnold Pellerin

  6. Jenette Fosmire

    It is unknown how many adults and children suffer with other serious, significant eating disorders, including one category of eating disorders called eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS). EDNOS includes eating disorders that do not meet the criteria for anorexia or bulimia nervosa. Binge-eating disorder is a type of eating disorder called EDNOS. ^..`,

    Catch ya later
    http://picturesofherpes.codh Jenette Fosmire

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  8. It doesn’t surprise me that marijuana is effective for patients with eating disorders. It has been used for so many different things! The list only continues to grow. I would suspect that it’s not as effective for some patients as it is for others, so it will probably need to be taken case-by-case. Great article!

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