Cachexia, often referred to as “wasting syndrome”, is diagnosed when a person experiences a severe loss of body mass without making an effort to lose weight. With what is typically a progressive onset, cachexia is most often a symptom of an underlying condition such as cancer, AIDS, or multiple sclerosis. It is estimated that about 50 percent of all cancer patients will develop cancer cachexia. Those with cachexia suffer from a severe lack of appetite and find it difficult to combat the loss of lean body mass (muscle) even when consuming a sufficient amount of nutritionally dense calories. As a result, those suffering from cachexia often experience symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, depression, nausea and overall poor quality of life.
A Brief Description
How Can Cannabis Help?
Although the treatment options for cachexia patients are dependent on the underlying cause, the typical regimen involves some form of a pharmaceutical appetite stimulant.
Experts today reveal why medical cannabis is such an effective treatment option for those suffering from cachexia, and even many of the underlying conditions like cancer, AIDS, and multiple sclerosis. The organic chemical compounds responsible for much of the healing characteristics of cannabis, called cannabinoids, bind to the same endocannabinoid receptors located throughout the human brain and body that are responsible for regulating several body systems including pain, appetite, mood, and memory. What most people may not realize is that several of the pharmaceuticals are synthetic replicas of medical cannabinoids. Whereas patients often report that the pharmaceutical therapies are less than successful, many patients report finding relief in the use of whole plant medical cannabis.
Dr. Donald Abrams, chief of the Hematology-Oncology Division at San Francisco General, reports that most of the AIDS and cancer patients that he treats who suffer from cachexia prefer smoking or vaporizing medical cannabis to taking the pill forms of synthetic THC, like durnabinol or Marinol, because they are able to more accurately titrate or dose through inhalation. Cancer and Aids cachexia patients also reported preferring the rapid onset provided by smoking or vaporizing, which can provide effective relief in just a few minutes, over waiting for a pill to be processed by the gastrointestinal tract.
What Does The Research Say?
While the anecdotal evidence has always been plentiful regarding cannabis’ impact as an appetite stimulant (…often referred to as the “munchies”) only recently have we seen clinical studies that have been able to explain this phenomenon. Several studies have revealed that the psychoactive cannabinoid, THC, is particularly effective at stimulating appetite and weight gain. Another 2005 study conducted in New York state revealed that medical cannabis produced substantial increases in appetite without producing adverse effects. The same study also noted that participants displayed a positive shift in mood.
Most notably, a new study by Yale School of Medicine researchers, titled “Neuroscience: A cellular basis for the munchies,” was published in the February 18th issue of the journal Nature. The research is part of a larger effort to understand how the brain controls a person’s appetite.
The cause of the appetite stimulation resides within the same neurons that are known to produce the feeling of being full, which under normal circumstances effectively suppress the appetite. Under normal circumstances, the pro-opiomelanocortin (POMC) fire and it causes the body to produce a hormone call a-melanocyte (a-MSH). The a-MSH then signals the body to stop eating by sending the feeling of being full.
When cannabinoids are introduced to the body, it causes the POMC to work backwards. Instead of signaling the a-MSH to produce feelings of fullness, the POMC send signals of hunger that result in an increased appetite.
This new discovery has the ability to open doors to a whole new world of appetite stimulation for patients suffering from conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS and other patients who’s traditional treatment regimen results in a loss of appetite or difficulty eating.
While research has shown cannabis to be effective in providing palliative and therapeutic effects for some patients, always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before starting any new treatment utilizing medical cannabis or discontinuing an existing treatment. The content on this site is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.