Can THC treat Anorexia and Bulemia? – Endocannabinoid systems are altered in eating disorders


“The munchies” — an effect of THC causing heightened craving and enjoyment of food after taking is currently used to help HIV patients and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy patients maintain their weight. New research indicates that THC could help anorexics and bulemics regain weight–though probably not through “the munchies.”

A new PET imaging study reported in Biological Psychiatry suggests sufferers of anorexia and bulemia have a deficit in endocannabinoids (cannabinoids produced by the brain). Patients with eating disorders showed increased binding of a radio-labeled CB1R ligand [18F]MK-9470, and the authors of the study write that the upregulation of CB1R may be a compensation to a decrease in endocannabinoid signaling from the anorectic condition. CB1R Upregulation was especially notable in the insular cortex, which integrates interoception (stimuli produced from within, especially by the gut and other internal organs), taste, reward, and the processing of emotions such as disgust. Authors point out that the only clinical trial of cannabis on anorexia nervosa, high doses were used which can lower the appetite increasing effects.

MK-9470 – Selective CB1 inverse agonist

However, authors caution that differences in body fat could confound the PET imaging of the lipophilic tracer. Also, the authors mention previous data conflicting with their hypothesis that the receptor upregulation may be due to endocannabinoid deficiency–studies have shown that endocannabinoid levels in the blood of anorexic patients are higher than in controls. However, it is unknown how well peripheral levels correlate with CNS levels, especially since endocannabinoids can have very local, temporally-specific effects. A better approximation than blood might be spinal tap samples of CSF, but that is quite a painful procedure. Even better might by in vivo magnetic resonance spectrometry for endocannabinoids in the insula. Can that be performed? Which chemicals can be detected with that method and which cannot?


If you want to learn more about hunger, satiety, and weight lost check out my post on weight loss and longterm effects of hormones on hunger and satiety.

If you’re interested in the neuroscience of drugs check out: We know a lot about drugs – new data shows long-term epigenetic changes, and Card sorting, pot smoking, pleasure and one gene: COMT

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