Cannabis to treat cachexia is becoming commonplace. Sufferers of cachexia are usually willing to try anything to regain weight and muscle loss. Nowadays many are turning to marijuana to maintain weight, prevent future losses, and as an appetite stimulant.

What Causes Cachexia and Can Marijuana Help?

A multitude of chronic and end-of-life diseases such as cancer, HIV/AIDS, renal failure, congestive heart failure, Crohn’s disease, and multiple sclerosis all often cause cachexia (also known as wasting syndrome). Sufferers with cachexia experience rapid fat and muscle losses that occur even with adequate food intake. In recent years, physicians and medical researchers have been exploring the use of cannabinoids found in the cannabis plant to treat cachexia. The use of marijuana also spurs the patient’s appetite while creating a more relaxed feeling with few side effects.

 Cachexia and the Body’s Reaction to Cannabis Sativa

Cachexia is believed to be the result of the body’s inflammatory reaction to the underlying medical disorder. Also, in some cases, sufferers of advanced cancer have tumors that produce proteins which cause a decrease in the motility of the stomach and intestines. The gastrointestinal system does not successfully take in nutrients which accelerates the body’s weight loss. The medical management of the wasting disease is complicated and often must focus on the cause. However, cannabis treatment is becoming more widespread around the world because it relaxes the sufferer and spurs appetite. Cannabinoids also offer strong anti-inflammatory properties. The reduced inflammation within the GI tract allows food and nutrients to be better absorbed by the body.

Treating the Wasting Disease with Marijuana

Researchers at the Europäisches Institut für Onkologische und Immunologische Forschung, Berlin, Germany found that the cannabinoid delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) reduced weight loss and increased appetite in both cancer and HIV sufferers. The clinical trials revealed that cannabis is far better tolerated than straight THC.  Cannabinoids are also widely used during chemotherapy and other drug treatments to alleviate symptoms and prevent cachexia from developing.

Natural THC Versus Synthetic THC

Researchers believe that patients respond better to whole plant treatment because THC is most effective when combined with other naturally occurring cannabinoids such as cannabidiol (CBD). In the 1980s, Solvay Pharmaceuticals released synthetic THC (Dronabinol) under the brand names Marinol and Syndros to treat cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and those with AIDS. Unfortunately, the synthetic THC lacks the success of natural cannabis THC. It is believed that the failure of Marinol has been related to the fact that THC works best when taken in combination with the plant’s other cannabinoids. Synthetic cannabinoids are also simply not as effective.

Palliative Care and Cannabis

Patients with cancer often report that nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, and physical weakness brought on from the wasting are more difficult to cope with than even pain. Their quality of life is severely impacted. Cannabis is an option for palliative care after all other medical resources have been exhausted, according to the Australian Government’s Department of Health Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Undoubtedly, the loss of weight and muscles leads to higher morbidity rates as the patient becomes too weak to physically function. Cachexia renders them bedridden and unable to enjoy life. The use of cannabis brings considerable relief by creating a feeling of relaxation, reducing inflammation throughout the body, and increasing appetite.