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Eating disorders can take an extremely scary and debilitating turn if they are not dealt with correctly and in time.
These disorders affect a huge proportion of the population, especially at the primary level. Therefore, raising awareness about their different types, how they can be diagnosed, and how they can be managed and prevented early, on is extremely important.
Today we’ll be talking about one such eating disorder, Anorexia nervosa, and how cannabidiol (CBD) can be potentially helpful in managing the devastating symptoms that come with the condition.
What is Anorexia?
Anorexia is an eating disorder characterized by severe weight loss, either from restricted eating or vomiting soon after eating. Since the disorder is related to issues with ‘body image’, an individual doesn’t have to be of a certain weight to develop anorexia.
The condition causes a person to either compulsively or obsessively think about their body weight, shape, or simply how they look. It is a common misconception that an individual with anorexia will be overly thin; hence the disorder is often misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed in those with a larger body type.
Statistically, eating disorders are more prevalent among teenage girls, typically within the ages of 13 and 17, even though this isn’t always the case.
Psychological research suggests that eating disorders such as anorexia are common among teenage girls due to societal pressures. Since most teenage girls have dangerous idealisms and standards about beauty, they are more prone to developing an eating disorder. Other reasons include low self-esteem, peer pressure, hormonal fluctuations typical with this age, and emotional instability.
If these factors are not highlighted and dealt with in time, anorexia can very well be carried by an individual into their adult life.
Risk Factors, Signs, and Symptoms for Anorexia
An individual may be at risk of, or diagnosed with anorexia if they display the following characteristics:
- Immense fear of gaining weight
- Restrict their required energy/caloric intake
- Believe that they need to change their weight (distorted body image)
- Deny any sudden weight loss
- Post-traumatic Stress/Anxiety
- Family trauma/Abuse
- Easily bullied/intimated
Common signs to look out for in an individual suffering from anorexia are:
- Denying feeling hungry
- Drastic weight loss
- Taking laxatives
- Erratic binge eating
- Exercising compulsively
- Fixation with weight/caloric intake/diet
- Constantly making negative comments about their body image (fat, overweight)
- Limiting social interaction and become more secluded and secretive
- Stubborn behavioral patterns
- Wearing many layers of clothes to stop feeling cold or hide weight loss
Some common symptoms associated with anorexia are:
- lowered immunity
- skipping meals
- sleep disturbances
- difficulty concentrating
- brittle nails and hair
- dental problems
- discoloration of skin
- irregular periods
- swelling or bloating
- the unexpected appearance of fine hair on the body
Traditional Anorexia Treatment
Since eating disorders are classified as ‘mental health disorders’, their treatment involves specialized therapeutic interventions, such as:
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): a trained professional helps analyze larger traumas and problems, understand the response to them and question the mental thought patterns that we go through when dealing with them.
- Cognitive Analytic Therapy (CAT): this is usually recommended for patients with anorexia along with CBT. CAT explores past happenings and conflicts to help identify exactly why they might have developed this disorder.
- Focal Psychodynamic Therapy (similar to CAT): this is used to access and work through previously unresolved conflicts.
- Interpersonal Psychotherapy: analyses how an individual’s relationships affect their mental health.
- Diet Plans and dietary advice
In certain (unusual) cases, anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications might also be administered by a mental health professional. And in severe cases, hospitalization might be required to firstly rejuvenate the body back to its almost normal state, after which therapeutic interventions can begin.
Even though these methods are highly effective, many individuals do not feel comfortable going to therapy to expose their inner feelings. Moreover, a majority don’t feel that there’s anything wrong with what they’re doing.
In short, rigidity and self-denial are usually the major drawbacks of these methods of treating anorexia.
Understanding How CBD Might Help with Anorexia
Unfortunately, there is no specified or physical treatment to cure eating disorders. However, since CBD has been possibly shown to help regulate mood, stimulate appetite, curb anxiety, and even boost cognition, it could possibly be useful for individuals undergoing psychotherapy to treat anorexia.
CBD (cannabidiol) is the second most dominant active ingredient found in the plant cannabis (marijuana). CBD is a critical component of medical marijuana and is derived directly from the hemp plant.
What makes CBD so useful is the fact that it does not cause a person to become high, hence it is routinely used as a therapeutic agent (supplement not medicine) for uplifting the mind and body, and also helping promote balance and stability.
CBD- Mechanism of Action in Anorexia
CBD works within the body by interacting with the endocannabinoid system (ECS). The endocannabinoid system is an inherent biological system composed of endocannabinoids, which are neurotransmitters capable of binding to cannabinoid receptors. These receptors are expressed throughout the central and peripheral nervous system, and it is this interaction by which CBD exerts its effects within our body.
Since the ECS influences many of our bodily processes, such as appetite and mood, studies have found that CBD, along with its ability to balance out the ECS, may play a positive role in managing eating disorders. According to recent research, eating disorders may be linked to a poor endocannabinoid system, which also plays a role in regulating human relations with food. Hence, people who suffer from anorexia are more likely to have a low or inactive endocannabinoid system.
Research shows that CBD indirectly stimulates CB1 receptors within the brain, which are responsible for modifying emotions, memory, and perception. Activating these receptors in the right amounts leads to positive changes. This is crucial when considering that CBD does not essentially attach itself to ECS receptors within the body. In fact, CBD has a very low affinity for these receptors.
The way CBD functions is by controlling the naturally occurring ECS receptors, making it easier to stabilize the body’s natural processes without inducing paranoia, psychoactivity, or anxiety. This is because CBD improves the concentration of the endocannabinoid receptor, anandamide. Research shows that a higher concentration of anandamide triggers feelings of pleasure, lowers anxiety, improves mood and stimulates appetite by increasing the production of the hormone serotonin, and also promotes wellness.
Apart from this, CBD may also provide therapeutic support to the brain, hence possibly promoting mental health. In most instances, eating disorders are triggered by inner pressures to attain an unrealistically ‘thin’ body, which simultaneously leads to anxiety and depression. CBD has been used by people to reduce stress and promote relaxation for centuries, and research has also shown some evidence to its efficacy in this regard. So, by reducing the accompanying symptoms of eating disorders such as mental frustration and depression, CBD may help with anorexia recovery.
Despite a lack of conclusive clinical evidence, one thing can be said for sure: manipulating the endocannabinoid system may play a role in potentially preventing, and managing, the risk of eating disorders such as anorexia.
As for CBD, it can possibly facilitate a healthy endocannabinoid system. Consuming CBD-infused products like CBD oils or beverages may stimulate the ECS to produce cannabinoids on its own, resulting in a correction of existing imbalances that may have initially triggered the eating disorder.
Moreover, taking CBD to try minimize the psychological symptoms associated with eating disorders poses its benefits. In contrast to anti-depressants, CBD is a natural non-addictive substance with potentially no side effects. Hence it can be slowly incorporated into one’s daily routine after consultation with a health professional.
If you, or someone you know is suffering from anorexia please contact one of our experienced doctors here at the Cannabis Clinic to learn more if CBD oil can be used to help treat anorexia in NZ.
Disclaimer – medicinal cannabis and CBD oil are unapproved medicines in NZ which means that there is no conclusive evidence for their effect, apart from Sativex. Many doctors do not routinely prescribe cannabis medicines. The above article was written for general educational purposes and does not intend to suggest that medicinal cannabis can be used to treat any health condition. Please consult with your healthcare provider.