Brain and Body

Smoking Weed May Help Treat Eating Disorders

September 17, 2015 | Kelly Tatera

Dried marijuana leaves
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People with eating disorders might find that major relief from their conditions can be rolled up in a joint and smoked.

As the legalization of marijuana continues to sweep the nation, some surprising medicinal benefits are emerging— an interesting one being the treatment of eating disorders. The psychoactive drug has proven to give some people affected by eating disorders a mental break from their anxieties surrounding food, not to mention the notorious “munchies” that come with being high.

The National Eating Disorder Association estimates there are about 30 million people in the United States living with an eating disorder, more than people with PTSD, schizophrenia, and depression combined. But the US Department of Health & Human Services only budgets $30 million for eating disorder research annually, about $1 per person living with an eating disorder. For perspective, $404 million is spent on depression research annually, which comes out to about $122 per person.

SEE ALSO: Researchers find cannabis compound helps heal broken bones

The symptoms of eating disorders are the most strenuous for the heart to keep up with, which explains why eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of all psychological illnesses. It’s a physical battle as much as it is a mental one. However, weed is quickly placing itself as a possible solution for those battling anorexia nervosa, bulimia, or unspecified eating disorders.

The American Psychiatric Association has a 128-page document outlining the guidelines for treating someone with an eating disorder, including an extensive list of psychiatric medications like benzodiazepines, SSRIs, anti-psychotics, and lithium. But these drugs come with a grocery list of additional problems: some antidepressants increase the risk of seizure in underweight people, benzodiazepines are highly addictive, and some SSRIs can actually lead to further weight loss, encouraging the treatment for the wrong reason.

In an interview with VICE, psychologist and eating disorder specialist Dr. Beth Braun says that she’s seen a greater success rate with her clients who smoke weed than those who take psychotropic drugs. She says that she doesn’t recommend it since she can’t legally prescribe drugs, but if it’s giving her patients anxiety relief and encouraging them to eat, she supports it.

It must be noted, however, that weed brings out different reactions in everyone. Even regular smokers can sometimes come across a strain that causes paranoia and neuroticism. As eating disorders have a high degree of comorbidity, this means that they’re often fueled by underlying problems like anxiety and depression. For these disorders, smoking weed can go one of two ways: it can bring relief from the uncomfortable feelings, or it can intensify them.

Also, the munchies can work wonders for those struggling with anorexia, but they can be disastrous for those with bulimia. Once the munchies start, they’re hard to stop. Pigging out while high can increase the risk of feeling ashamed afterward, triggering the binge-purge cycle.

VICE’s reporter, Arielle Pardes, spoke to a dozen people with eating disorders who self-medicate with marijuana, and she discovered varying degrees of success. For one woman, being high kept her from compulsively tracking the calories she ate. For a man in his mid-20s, smoking weed was enough to show him that another life was “both possible and desirable.”

Another man with a severe eating disorder, weighing about 70 pounds at his lowest weight, told Pardes that the biggest surprise that came from smoking weed wasn’t that it made him feel calmer, hungrier, or less anxious. Marijuana blocked out the loud voices in his head that preached self-hate, and when he looked in the mirror, he could see how emaciated he was. When he was sober, he saw a distorted image of himself that perpetuated the eating disorder, but when he was high, he overcame his body dysmorphic disorder and saw himself for who he really was.

Marijuana certainly isn’t a universal cure for eating disorders. Every person who struggles with an eating disorder has their own story, and smoking marijuana will affect them in different ways. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is also essential for a lasting recovery. However, smoking weed has the power to help people get through the day, and can even radically change their levels of self-criticism. If it’s a factor in motivating people to let go of their anxieties and eat, there’s no shame in getting high to stay alive.


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