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The Truth About Medical Cannabis and Appetite

July 16, 2019 • Lakewood Medical • Medical Marijuana

For people with serious illnesses that cause significant weight loss, medical marijuana may be just the thing to encourage healthier eating habits.  Among medical marijuana’s many beneficial properties is its ability to stimulate appetite. Or in colloquial terms, medical cannabis leads to “the munchies” — the strong craving for food associated with marijuana. Far from being a somewhat comical stereotype, the appetite increase produced by medical cannabis helps patients battle the dangerous weight loss that can come with serious ailments such as AIDS, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. Those diseases and conditions suppress the desire for food at a time when sufferers require maximum nutritional support. Eating more food would allow these patients to take in the nutrients they need to maintain a proper weight and stay healthy. Beyond the lore surrounding “the munchies” stands a slew of scientific studies documenting the effect medical marijuana can have on the parts of the brain and the body that regulate appetite.

How Medical Marijuana Increases Hunger

Last year, Washington State University researchers studied how the cannabinoids in medical marijuana, particularly delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), affected the appetite of lab mice. After being exposed to cannabis vapor, the mice nibbled even after they had already consumed a meal. These researchers theorized that medical marijuana increases the amount of ghrelin, a hormone in the belly that signals to the brain that the stomach is empty. More precisely, this study suggests medical cannabis interacts with a small area of the hypothalamus in the brain that picks up on ghrelin levels.  Other studies have further proven a link between medical marijuana and the leptin pathway — leptin being a hormone that regulates glucose and fat metabolism, in essence controlling hunger. Basically, medical cannabis “tricks” the brain into thinking it’s hungry. Someone undergoing nausea-causing cancer treatments or an Alzheimer’s patient who forgets to eat might therefore benefit from medical cannabis as an appetite stimulate. Plus, medical marijuana may enhance a person’s taste and smell, which subsequently makes food more appealing. This appetite-stimulating quality is especially important when a severe illness saps a person’s energy. Without good nutrition, the person may become weaker, leading to longer recovery times and repeated hospitalizations. Medical marijuana aids in boosting a patient’s appetite, thereby keeping their strength up and helping them enjoy food once again.

Can Marijuana Cause Excessive Weight Gain?

Many patients considering medical marijuana for a qualifying condition aren’t looking for a way to gain weight — and in fact, may be worried about “the munchies.” One enduring myth regarding medical marijuana is that its use will pack on the extra pounds. However, several studies have found that is not the case. In fact, for otherwise healthy individuals, it may have the opposite effect. A 2011 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology concluded obesity rates among non-users was higher than those who had used cannabis. More recently, researchers at Michigan State University tracked 33,000 responses filed in the Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC), a nationally representative study sample of U.S. citizens aged 18 and older. They interviewed the respondents between 2001-02 and 2004-05 about the frequency of their marijuana use. Their results, published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, found that those who consume cannabis actually put on fewer pounds than those who had never used marijuana. University of Indiana researchers came up with a theory as to why marijuana users are no more likely than non-users to gain weight. It has to do with marijuana’s effect on the CB1R receptor, which governs how the body stores and conserves energy. Although cannabis does cause a short-term spike in hunger, which could allow patients to gain calories and nutrition, it also modulates the body’s management of food once eaten. So after a bout of “the munchies,” marijuana users typically don’t experience a longer-term increase in appetite.

Can Medical Marijuana Help You?

Ohio permits the use of medical marijuana for 21 conditions, including AIDS, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and chronic pain. If you or a loved one are dealing with significant and worrisome weight loss due to one of these conditions, medical marijuana may help improve your appetite. Contact us today for a consultation