Cachexia and Marijuana: Does Cannabis Help with Wasting Syndrome?

cachexia and marijuana

Cachexia and marijuana have become topics of interest in the medical field in recent years due to the potential use of cannabis in managing this condition, also known as wasting syndrome. Cachexia, characterized by severe weight loss and muscle wasting, affects individuals with chronic illnesses such as cancer and AIDS. Meanwhile, marijuana has been studied for its appetite-stimulating properties, with a specific focus on the active component THC. In this blog, we will explore the connection between cachexia and marijuana, examining whether cannabis can offer relief for individuals experiencing this debilitating condition.

What Is Cachexia?

Cachexia, derived from the Greek words meaning “bad condition,” is a wasting syndrome that affects individuals in palliative care and those with end-stage diseases. It is characterized by weakness, weight loss, and muscle and fat depletion. While there has been significant progress in understanding cachexia through clinical trials and studies, challenges remain in terms of treatment pathways, classification, and diagnostic criteria. 

In addition, it is not a result of intentional weight loss, and it can affect both the elderly and individuals with certain chronic progressive diseases. It is important to differentiate cachexia from other conditions that cause weight loss for timely diagnosis and effective management. The syndrome is commonly observed in patients with conditions such as AIDS, cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and celiac disease. Cachexia occurs due to imbalances in various substances in the body, including myostatin hormone, glucocorticoids, insulin-like growth factor l, and cytokines. These imbalances hinder muscle growth, contribute to muscle wasting, and lead to weight loss. 

Cachexia Symptoms

Recognizing cachexia can be challenging since patients may not appear malnourished, especially if they were overweight before developing their chronic illness. However, specific criteria can help diagnose cachexia accurately. These include:

  • Having less than ten percent body fat.
  • Unintentionally losing more than five percent of total body weight.
  • Elevated levels of cytokines (inflammatory substances) in the blood.
  • A body mass index (BMI) below 22 for individuals over 65 and below 20 for those under 65.
  • Albumin levels under 35 grams per liter, indicating low protein levels and potential fluid retention.

Medical Marijuana and Appetite Stimulation

Studies have shown that THC may enhance our sensitivity to smell, making the aromas of food more potent and increasing our desire to eat. The close relationship between scent and taste suggests that THC may enhance our ability to appreciate flavors. Furthermore, THC can stimulate neurons that typically turn off during eating, leading to increased food consumption. THC is believed to block the neurons responsible for regulating satiety, leading to a higher food intake. Additionally, THC interacts with receptors in the hypothalamus, triggering the release of the hormone ghrelin, which stimulates hunger, particularly for sweet and fatty foods. THC also induces dopamine release, enhancing the pleasure derived from food.

THC may also have a positive impact on the gut biome. A study conducted on obese mice at the University of Calgary examined the effects of THC on animals placed on a high-calorie diet. The results showed that THC normalized gut bacteria levels in these mice, preventing further weight gain.

Interestingly, despite the increased caloric intake associated with THC use (one study reported an additional 600 calories per day), individuals did not show a significant increase in body mass index (BMI). This suggests that THC may play a role in improving insulin control, regulating body weight, and potentially explaining the lower incidence of diabetes among cannabis users.

It is important to note that further research is still needed to fully understand the mechanisms and establish the optimal use of medical marijuana in this context. Consulting with healthcare professionals is essential for personalized guidance and appropriate treatment decisions.

Talk to a Provider Today to Get the Support You Need

If you or a loved one are seeking support for managing cachexia and marijuana or other chronic illness-related symptoms, it is important to consult with healthcare professionals who have expertise in medical marijuana. Pause Pain & Wellness is Mississippi’s premier Medical Marijuana Card Clinic, providing statewide access with multiple convenient locations. Call us today at 833-940-5060 to receive the guidance and assistance you need. As a trusted Medical Marijuana Card Clinic in Mississippi, Pause Pain & Wellness offers a range of services to meet your needs. With locations in Oxford, Meridian, Flowood/Jackson, Tupelo, Olive Branch, Starkville, Hattiesburg, and Gulfport, we are dedicated to providing accessible and comprehensive care throughout the state.