While some folks might consider increased appetite from cannabis a negative side effect, for some it is an absolute essential benefit of medical marijuana. Often times cancer patients experience loss of appetite, whether from the cancer itself or as a result of the chemotherapy treatment. Decreased appetite can lead to:
- Loss of muscle mass
- Weight loss
Wasting—a combination of weight loss and loss of muscle—is a serious complication of cancer and cancer treatment. Fortunately, many cancer patients are able to turn to cannabis to help alleviate this common problem. Even the Canadian Cancer Society admits that marijuana seems to help stimulate appetite.
What causes Loss of Appetite in Cancer Patients?
There are a multitude of reasons cancer patients may lose their appetites. Some cancers, particularly ovarian, stomach and pancreatic cancers effect metabolism. Cancer symptoms, such as an enlarged spleen or buildup of fluid in the abdomen, can put pressure on the stomach, causing the patient to feel full even though they're not.
Cancer medications themselves can also cause loss of appetite. Chemotherapy can alter perceptions of taste, and it’s not uncommon for cancer patients to lose their sense of taste completely, making eating a chore. Chemotherapy patients also commonly experience nausea and vomiting.
Medical Marijuana Stimulates Appetite & May Restore Sense of Taste
Researchers have begun exploring how and why cannabis aids cancer patients. Although the exact mechanism is still unknown, numerous studies over the past decade have supported its effectiveness. A 2011 study performed by Canadian researchers published in The Annals of Oncology, found that 64% of patients taking a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) pill reported increased appetite. Patients also reported that food tasted better while taking THC.
Synthetic THC Available to Treat Appetite Loss in Cancer Patients
Medical marijuana has been successfully used to treat loss of appetite, wasting and the nausea and vomiting associated with cancer more than 20 years. The pharmaceutical industry took note and developed a synthetic THC-based medication called Marinol. Marinol, which comes in pill form, has been on the market since 1985 and is currently available through Health Canada.
Tips for Cancer Patients Consuming Medical Marijuana
Low THC cannabis flower and products have been found to be more stimulating than higher concentrated, more psychoactive mixtures. Oral administration may be the most effective form of delivery for cannabis products intended to stimulate the appetite. This is because the benefits of the marijuana are delivered faster as the plant’s compounds are rapidly absorbed through the tissues of the mouth. So, this means the preferred delivery method for cancer patients would be smoking or vaping. If a patient doesn’t want to or can’t do either of those, sublingual oils would be the next best option.
If you or someone you know suffers from cancer and wants to treat loss of appetite or wasting, talk to your doctor about your cannabis options. It may be a relief to treat one aspect of the disease naturally without another pill to take.
Photo credit: Pan American Health Organization