Anorexia is an acute loss of appetite, often associated with psychological factors. Various stomach disorders, reactions to medications, and the use of illicit narcotics such as cocaine or heroin can cause anorexia. Some forms of anorexia are thought to develop as an exaggerated response to cultural standards of beauty. The potential for relief of anorexia with the use of cannabis may depend upon psychological factors. Cannabinoids may have minimal appetite stimulation effect in cases of classic anorexia nervosa. The overwhelming evidence of hunger-inducing properties of cannabinoids, particularly the primary ingredient, delta-9 THC, in the physical condition of appetite loss known as cachexia is well-established.. Synthetic THC pills called Marinol are indicated for the treatment of anorexia, but physicians may risk losing their license by writing “off-label” Marinol prescriptions for patients suffering from anorexia not caused by the AIDS wasting syndrome or cancer chemotherapy.

“An appetite-enhancing effect of THC is observed with daily divided doses totaling 5 mg. When required, the daily dose may be increased to 20 mg. In a long-term study of 94 AIDS patients, the appetite-stimulating effects of THC continued for months, confirming the appetite enhancement noted in a shorter six-week study. THC doubled appetite on a visual analogue scale in comparison to placebo. Patients tended to retain a stable body weight over the course of seven months."

“A positive influence on body weight was also reported in 15 patients with Alzheimer’s disease who were previously refusing food. Surprisingly, THC also decreased the observed severity of disturbed behavior. In patients diagnosed with primary anorexia nervosa there was no measurable cannabinoid effect, presumably because the underlying pathological mechanism is not loss of appetite.”

-- Grotenhermen, Russo. Cannabis and Cannabinoids: Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Potential . New York: The Hawthorn Integrative Healing Press, 2002,. Grotenhermen, “Review of Therapeutic Effects.” Chapter 11, p. 128

Related sections: AIDS, Digestive Disorders, Psychoactivity, Stress Reduction