Coming out of one of the darkest years in modern history, it’s completely natural to feel out of sorts in your body. The stress, depression, and anxiety that stemmed from our global pandemic may have triggered symptoms associated with an eating disorder.

No thanks to social media, we’ve seen our friends and acquaintances gain weight during the pandemic as well as lose weight. Some of us are prone to stress eating whereas others avoid food altogether. Science suggests that some of us are more prone to an eating disorder based on our biology and DNA—and it’s a far more complex issue than the desire to be “thin.” In today’s blog, we’ll explore whether cannabis can help those with an eating disorder.

The Roots of an Eating Disorder

Despite what you often see in movies, not all eating disorders revolve around weight, appearance, pants size, and body fat. It’s more complicated than an individual who wants to be skinny or thin. More often than not, it’s about what’s happening on the inside than the outside. According to the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), “two-thirds of those with anorexia [show] signs of an anxiety disorder (including generalized anxiety, social phobia, and obsessive-compulsive disorder) before the onset of their eating disorder.” The basis of an eating disorder may not come from food or weight. Instead, it may begin with chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and poor mental health, surely something we all dealt with last year.

The Body’s Endocannabinoid System

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is a network of receptors, enzymes, and endocannabinoid molecules that maintain homeostasis in our bodies. In simpler terms, this system keeps our bodies at a neutral level for optimal function. It regulates hormones, enzymes, sleep, mood, memory, appetite, reproduction, pain sensation, etc. Think of the endocannabinoid system as a machine. If there’s a wrench in the system, we may be more prone to an eating disorder as this system controls our appetite and energy levels.

Getting more on the topic of cannabis, we are all born with CB1 and CB2 receptors in the brain and central nervous system. CB1 and CB2 stand for “cannabinoid receptor type,” a vital protein found in the peripheral nervous system and central nervous system. “Because of the way they bind to CB1 receptors, ingested cannabinoids can help reduce patients’ anxiety and increase (or decrease, in the case of high-CBD strains) the amount of food they consume.” Regular cannabis users discover this pretty quickly: cannabinoids can increase appetite levels known as munchies.

Can Cannabis Help With an Eating Disorder?

As much as we’d love to say that cannabis plays the role of a hero, we need much further research to make such a statement. The truth is that cannabis alone cannot be considered “treatment” for an eating disorder. Rather, we can say that cannabis may help with appetite stimulation because of the way cannabinoids bind with the endocannabinoid system.

According to Eating Disorder Help, “a study reported that smoking marijuana can increase an individual’s caloric intake by as much as 40 percent. THC, the primary chemical compound present in marijuana, stimulates metabolism and, in this study, contributed to increased snacking in both social and private settings.” While this may not cure or treat the eating disorder altogether, it shows positive signs of increased appetite and caloric intake. Cannabis certainly shows promise of helping patients with an eating disorder but it’s one of many hurdles to overcome.