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Cannabis & Appetite | Health


As I was driving into work the other day, I was at a red light waiting for the green turn arrow, and my attention was drawn to my left. There was a bus stop and a woman pushing a foldable grocery cart was walking up to the bus stop. She was emaciated and “skin and bones”. She moved in front of her cart and I could see her arms and legs and bones because she was wearing a tank top and shorts. She had very little muscle on her body. She looked extremely malnourished. I wondered what the last meal was that she ate and how long she has been like this.

I have patients at the clinic who also resemble this woman in appearance. Either these patients have digestive issues like Crohn’s, IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), anorexia or bulimia, nausea, cancer, HIV or AIDS, or have other chronic diseases. Many patients have nausea and a lack of appetite as a side effect from all of the medications that they are taking. For others, they just do not have an appetite. The food does not look appealing or taste appealing. I had a patient recently who said that she looks forward to eating but “when the food is placed in front of me, I don’t want it. So, I don’t eat.” Naturally, as the body ages, the senses of taste and smell may be diminished which leads to an overall lack of appetite and less vigor and delight when it comes to eating. THC has the ability to sharpen the senses of smell and taste, thus enhancing the desire to eat and the satisfaction (reward) of doing so.

Feeling hungry and eating are responses generated and felt in the digestive system, specifically the stomach, as well as in the brain and through the senses. Seeing the colors and texture of the food, smelling the aroma of the food, as well as anticipating the food and the feeling of content after the meal are all factors in enjoying food. All of these components in balance are the ingredients of a good meal.

Cannabis can help increase hunger and appetite and research shows that smoking or vaping the cannabis plant is the best way to achieve this.

Researchers at Washington State University in the Department of Integrative Physiology and Neurosciences, studied rats and exposed them to cannabis smoke and found that their eating behavior was either turned on or off by the presence of cannabis smoke. They also found that specific regions in the brain are “turned on” to hungry mode in the presence of cannabis.

Here is a quick lesson in hunger: when the stomach is empty, it releases a hormone called ghrelin which tells the brain, “Hey, go look for food. I’m empty and it’s time to eat.” Researchers found that cannabis leads to a release in ghrelin, thus leading to an increase in hunger and the search for food begins. Ghrelin is also involved in regulating the feeling of reward, especially when in relation to food. The hormone is released mainly by the stomach but also found in other digestive organs as well as produced in the brain. People with anorexia nervosa, obesity, and cancer-causing weight loss and loss of appetite all have abnormal levels of ghrelin. Thus, using cannabis can be one way to treat these diseases by directly affecting the ghrelin levels.

Severe appetite loss is a common symptom of many chronic illnesses and is especially problematic in cancer, HIV/AIDS, heart disease and digestive disorders. If a person has chemotherapy for cancer treatment, then this usually leaves them with a loss of appetite and resultant weight loss. Keeping adequate weight on the body is needed for cancer treatment, but sometimes the forms of treatment are counter productive to this. If cancer was present on the head, neck or face and radiation is applied to these areas of the body, then the taste buds will be destroyed by the radiation and thus food will not taste like anything. This adds to the complication of eating. The radiation burns the skin and so it may also be painful to chew, drink and swallow. Cannabis can be used to help these symptoms of pain as well as promote hunger. If the patient has had surgery, then their body needs to have adequate nutrition to heal and recover from the surgery. If there is a lack of appetite and nutrients, then this recovery process will take longer.

There are many strains that increase hunger and appetite. Usually the indica strains can help most: GOO, MONSTER COOKIES, KUSH are a few known strains to help with hunger. Use your own body to test the strains out to see which one works best for making you hungry.

Happy and healthy eating. Mangia!

Dr. Kimberly Landino Naturopathic Medicine

Sources: (Investigating the Neuroendocrine and Behavioral Controls of Cannabis-Induced Feeding Behavior. JF Davis, PQ Choi, J Kunze, P Wahl, Washington State University Pullman, WA, USA. Presented July 2018, Society for the Study of Ingestive Behavior, Bonita Springs, FL).

Kimberly Landino

Dr. Kimberly Landino has been practicing Naturopathic Medicine in Arizona since 2001. She certifies patients for their MMJ card at All Greens Clinic in Sun City, AZ. Click here for more from Kimberly Landino.


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