For many patients, finding the desire to eat is difficult. Patients battling cancer and those with HIV-related anorexia know this struggle particularly well. Other patients may find certain medications suppress their appetite. Conditions such as chronic pain can decrease the desire to consume food. Nausea and vomiting caused by some medications and conditions can also interfere with your appetite.
For patients living with these conditions, mealtime can be distressing. It’s enough to leave you wondering, “what medication increases appetite?”
Medical cannabis is one of the most reliable medications for boosting appetite.
Medical Cannabis Can Cause “the Munchies”
If you look at popular culture, one of the side effects typically associated with recreational cannabis use is hunger, colloquially called “the munchies.” Characters in TV shows and movies will often use cannabis, then seek out junk food.
There’s truth to this, and it’s that THC, one of the active cannabinoids in cannabis, can boost appetite. Medical researchers have been studying this effect for some time, especially as they sought to determine how medical marijuana could be used to help cancer patients during treatment.
Medical cannabis strains with a high THC content usually boost appetite. How exactly does it work?
The Science Behind Hunger
Hunger is regulated by certain processes in the body. After you eat, the body produces a substance called leptin, which can suppress the appetite. As leptin decreases, you’ll become hungrier. If another medication or a physical condition causes an increase in leptin or leptin levels to drop more slowly, you won’t feel hunger. For those with HIV-related anorexia, for example, the neurons slow down or fail to send the message of hunger altogether.
Neurons in the brain also send signals to tell you that you are full after having eaten. When THC is introduced to the system, these neurons slow down and fail to send the message. THC also appears to inhibit the production of the appetite-suppressing leptin.
In essence, medical cannabis tricks your brain into telling you that you’re hungry. For patients who are suffering from a lack of appetite, this can help them maintain nutrition during their illness.
Refining the Palate
Medical cannabis also seems to assist by increasing your appreciation of food. Not only do you feel hungrier, but food tastes better and is more satisfying when you’re using medical marijuana. This is likely because THC enhances the sensory system, making the taste buds more engaged.
The mechanism behind this is less understood, although it appears THC also signals the brain to fuel this increase in food desirability. This is helpful for patients who are suffering from a suppressed appetite, since it encourages them to eat. Not only do they feel hungrier, but meals are more enjoyable as well.
Assisting with Nausea and Vomiting
Another area medical cannabis can help with is nausea and vomiting. These symptoms can be associated with a wide range of medical conditions, and they may be side effects of certain medications as well.
Nausea and vomiting after eating can create incredibly strong food aversions. This biological mechanism is designed to protect people from eating poisonous or spoiled foods. If you eat something and you don’t feel well afterwards, you’re likely to avoid that food in the future.
This is particularly problematic for cancer patients, who may be very ill after therapy. Food aversions may be particularly strong and may extend to a wide range of foods.
Some evidence suggests manipulations to the endocannabinoid system regulate vomiting and nausea. Medical marijuana can help alleviate these symptoms by activating CB1 receptor sites of the endocannabinoid system, which in turn can prevent food aversions from developing.
Is It Right for You?
There are several different conditions that cause appetite suppression, and medical marijuana is being investigated as a potential aid for these patients. There’s some hope it may assist those who have eating disorders, as well as people whose medications suppress their appetite.
The best-known use is as an aid for cancer patients. If you’re in treatment for cancer, you may want to ask your doctor about medical cannabis as part of your treatment plan.