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Overview of Anorexia

Anorexia nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by self-starvation and an abnormally low body weight. The serious and potentially life-threatening disorder, often simply referred to anorexia, is associated with a distorted perception of body weight and a fear of weight gain.

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that girls and women account for 90 to 90% of those suffering from anorexia. The fear is so intense for people with anorexia that they severely restrict their food intake to cause dramatic weight loss, without appreciating the seriousness of their situation.

With anorexia, because the body isn’t receiving the nutrients and calories it needs for normal functioning, it must slow down its physiological processes to save energy. According to NEDA, the heart rate slows and blood pressure drops, causing the heart to work harder and increasing the risk of heart failure. Other associated health consequences include the loss of bone density and muscle mass, fatigue and weakness, loss of hair, skin dryness, and severe dehydration, which increases the risk of kidney failure.

A comprehensive, multi-faceted approach is needed to treat anorexia, as both the mental and physical health of the affected individual must be addressed. The physical goal is to return to a healthy body weight through an increase in calorie intake and the implementation of proper nutritional habits. A psychologist or other mental health professional helps to address the behavioral issues associated with anorexia.

Findings: Effects of Cannabis on Alzheimer's Disease

Some scientists have suggested that anorexia and other eating disorders are connected to a dysfunction with the endocannabinoid system, a major neurotransmission system responsible for a variety of physiological processes related to homeostatic balance, including controlling the way the body reacts to particular foods and the feeling one gets from eating9,11. The particular cannabinoid receptor within the endocannabinoid system that is associated with appetite regulation is CB1. The CB1 receptor stimulates eating behavior by triggering hunger and fullness, offering pleasure after eating, and making food more palatable.

Medical cannabis contains tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), a cannabinoid that has long been found to directly affect this CB1receptor, thus stimulating hunger and increasing the pleasure felt when eating6. In animal trials, cannabinoids have shown to enhance appetite and the promotion of feeding6,8. Those suffering from anorexia will be better able to return to a healthy body weight if they feel hungry and enjoy eating.

In one study, a cannabis-based drug showed to be a safe and effective treatment method for anorexia associated with AIDS5. Evidence also suggests that cannabis may help cachexia patients increase their energy and physical activity levels, which in turn could lower the risk of atrophy and improve mood. A 2015 study found that adult women with severe anorexia nervosa treated with cannabis medication saw a modest increase in physical activity1.


  1. Andries, A., Frystyk, J., Flyvbjerg, A., and Stoving, RK. (2015, July). Changes in IGF-I, urinary free cortisol and adipokines during dronabinol therapy in anorexia nervosa: Results from a randomised, controlled trial. Growth Hormone & IGF Research, (15), 30017-4. Retrieved from

  2. Andries, A., Frystyk, J., Flyvbjerg, A., and Stoving, R.K. (2014, January). Dronabinol in severe, enduring anorexia nervosa: a randomized controlled trial. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, (47)1, 18-23. Retrieved from

  3. Andries, A., Gram, B., and Stoving, R.K. (2015, March). Effect of dronabinol therapy on physical activity in anorexia nervosa: a randomised, controlled trial. Eating and Weight Disorders, 20(1), 13-21. Retrieved from

  4. Anorexia Nervosa. (n.d.). NEDA. Retrieved from

  5. Beal, J.E., Olson, R., Laubenstein, L., Morales, J.O., Bellman, P., Yangco, B., Lefkowitz, L, Plasse, T.F. and Shephard, K.V. (1995, February). Dronabinol as a treatment for anorexia associated with weight loss in patients with AIDS. Journal of Pain and System Management, 10(2), 89-97. Retrieved from

  6. Cota, D., Marsicano, G., Lutz, B., Vicennati, V., Stalla, G.K., Pasquali, R., and Pagotto, U. (2013, March). Endogenous cannabinoid system as a modulator of food intake. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 27(3), 289-301. Retrieved from

  7. Koch, M., Varela, L., Geun Kim, J., Dae Kim, J., Hernández-Nuño, F., Simonds, S.E., Castorena, C.M., Vianna, C.R., Elmquist, J.K., Morozov, Y.M., Rakic, P., Bechmann, I., Cowley, M.A., Szigeti-Buck, K., Dietrich, M.L., Gao, X.-B., Diano, S., and Horvath, T.L. (2015, March 5). Hypothalamic POMC neurons promote cannabinoid-induced feeding. Nature, 519, 45-50. Retrieved from

  8. Mechoulam, R., Berry, E.M., Avraham, Y., Di Marzo, V., and Fride, E. (2006). Endocannabinoids, feedling and suckling – from our perspective. International Journal of Obesity, 30, S24-S28. Retrieved from

  9. Mechoulam, R., and Hanus, L. (2001). The cannabinoids: An overview. Therapeutic implications in vomiting and nausea after cancer chemotherapy, in appetite promotion, in multiple sclerosis and in neuroprotection. Cannabinoids, 6(2), 67-73. Retrieved from

  10. Morgan, C.J., Freeman, T.P., Schafer, G.L., and Curran, H.V. (2010). Cannabidiol Attenuates the Appetitive Effects of Δ9-Tetrahydrocannabinol in Humans Smoking Their Chosen Cannabis. Neuropsychopharmacology, 35(9), 1879–1885. Retrieved from

  11. Scherma, M., Fattore, L., Castelli, M.P., Fratta, W., and Fadda, P. (2014). The role of the endocannabinoid system in eating disorders: neurochemical and behavioural preclinical evidence. Current Pharmaceutical Design, 20(13), 2089-99. Retrieved from

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