How Medical Marijuana Could Treat Cachexia

Photo Credit: Medical Marijuana Inc.

Photo Credit: Medical Marijuana Inc.

Cachexia is characterized by extreme weight loss resulting from serious illnesses like cancer, HIV/AIDS, congestive heart failure, rheumatoid arthritis, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, cystic fibrosis, and Crohn's disease. Cachexia can be a disease-related, treatment-related, or patient-related problem. The syndrome weakens the immune system so that patients undergoing treatments like chemotherapy respond poorly to their therapies. It also causes weakness, fatigue, respiratory complications, and a disinterest in social activities. Current therapies include hypercaloric or intravenous feeding and the use of appetite-stimulating medications, but now researchers are considering adding medical marijuana to the mix because THC interacts with neural networks and causes the brain to produce hunger signals.

THC has not only stimulated appetite in patients with cancer-related cachexia, but it has also increased appetite and stabilized body weight in AIDS-related cachexia patients, and it has increased body weight in both HIV-positive and cancer patients. In addition to increasing appetite and stimulating weight, evidence suggests cannabis also has therapeutic effects on a cachexia patient's energy and physical activity levels, thereby lowering risk of atrophy and improving one's mood. Cannabis could also be considered a preventative therapy because medical marijuana has anti-nausea effects, which will make it easier for patients to eat regularly and keep down their food, thereby allowing them to absorb more nutrients and calories. 

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