Cannabis has long been associated with “the munchies,” an uncontrollable urge to snack or feast on a large assortment of healthy, or more likely, unhealthy food options. But this urge to consume food is far more important to medical cannabis patients, especially those suffering from HIV, AIDS, and cancer.
It has been known that cannabinoids like THC and CBD have an influence on how we as humans consume food, often playing a role in either weight gain or weight loss. Stimulation of CB1 and CB2 receptors found throughout the body are known to increase cravings for food increasing weight gain, while “antagonism” of these CB receptors can cause weight loss.
While small doses of THC are known to not promote weight gain, extended and more frequent cannabis consumption is known to increase an individual’s daily caloric intake, likely due to more food intake, or snacks, between meals.
Cannabis-induced weight gain in patients with HIV, AIDS, and cancer
For patients with HIV or AIDS, it is of clinical certainty that cannabis consumption via smoking or oral consumption is effective in increasing food intake. In a University of California study, patients consuming cannabis with Dronabinol, and by smoking, saw a weight gain of 3.5 kg and 3.1 kg respectively. Similar results were seen across other studies.
Cancer patients can also experience weight gain with cannabis therapy. Studies going as far back as 1975 have suggested that cannabis could treat nausea and stimulate appetite. Furthermore, other clinical studies have suggested that cannabis use could increase food intake in those who are underweight, but not increase food intake in those who are either of normal weight, or who are overweight. This could be explained by other factors including the frequency of cannabis use, along with other substances at play within the individual user.
Cannabis as an alternative treatment method
Cannabis offers an alternative treatment to other drugs (like Megestrol) that aim to produce weight gain in HIV, AIDS, and cancer patients. While clinically proven to promote weight gain, cannabis isn’t known to produce more weight gain than existing, traditional treatment options.
Sansone R. A., Sansone L. A. Marijuana and body weight. Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience. 2014;11(7-8):50–54.