Scientists have eliminated plague and polio, yet eating disorders continue ravaging the planet. There is a good chance to get an eating disorder in the 21st century, especially if you are a college student. Unfortunately, there is no universal medical treatment against such conditions as anorexia or bulimia. Therefore, alternative treatment also takes place in various forms. Recent research suggests that CBD (cannabidiol) could be beneficial to treat eating disorders. How promising is that?

Eating Disorders: How Bad Do They Hurt Us?

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) reports that about 20 million women and 10 million men are going to develop an eating disorder at some point in their lifetimes just in the United States. The situation is far worse among the present-day college students. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 25% of American students suffer from various eating disorders.

In fact, this is an alarming statistics since eating disorders can be fatal. Even though there is no universal data on the mortality rates from eating disorders, different studies estimate that it is quite high. Standardized Mortality Ratio (SMR) for Anorexia Nervosa is 5.86%, for Bulimia Nervosa is 1.93%, and for other Not Otherwise Specified Eating Disorders is 1.92%. It means that there is a significant risk of death in the world population.

The sad thing is that currently there is no universally approved medical treatment against eating disorders as none of them has shown sufficient efficacy. Determining the right course of treatment for anorexia or bulimia is usually left to a physician. In many cases, health professionals prescribe antidepressants to address the underlying mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression. Alternative treatment of eating disorders also takes place in the form of lifestyle and nutrition regimes’ changes. CBD treatment has also become a hot topic in the world of science, though sufficient research is yet to be done.

The Most Common Eating Disorders: Meet the Beasts

Though symptoms of eating disorders vary from person to person, it is possible to identify the three most common of them: Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, and Binge Eating Disorder (BED).

Anorexia Nervosa, simply called anorexia, is one of the gravest eating disorders characterized by abnormal thinness and extreme fear of gaining bodyweight. In many instances, anorexia is a psychological condition when the sufferer has a distorted perception of weight and shape. Though the root causes of anorexia vary from person to person, experts frequently attribute it to sociocultural influences and the media pressure to stay thin.

The most common symptoms of anorexia include abnormal body weight, poor appetite, lethargy, and yellowish skin. Patients suffering from anorexia usually dangerously restrict their diet, misuse laxatives, and engage in excessive exercise. In many instances, they equate a thin body with self-worth. Nevertheless, such people continue losing weight even when their desired shape has already been achieved.

Bulimia Nervosa, simply called bulimia, is another major eating disorder. However, unlike patients suffering from anorexia, people with bulimia usually maintain a normal weight. Still, they have an unhealthy attitude toward food consumption. Bulimia patients tend to eat large amounts of food and lose control of overeating. Afterwards, they get rid of the extra calories in various harmful ways, for example, by misusing laxatives and weight-loss supplements, strict dieting, or self-induced vomiting. Bulimia also has a lot to do with a distorted attitude towards self-image and weight. People with bulimia tend to judge themselves strictly upon their body shape.

Binge Eating Disorder (BED) is mainly about a short-term loss of control over one’s eating habits. A person with BED usually experiences short-term uncontrolled impulses for excessive food consumption minimum twice per week for a period of up to six months. Though BED frequently occurs in people of normal weight, it often facilitates the development of obesity. As a result, people with BED often struggle with guilt and disgust, which accompany their binge eating impulses. This, in turn, leads them to continue using food to cope with the vulnerable mental state, and thus a vicious cycle is created.

Traditional and Alternative Treatments: How Efficient Are They?

Since eating disorders are mostly related to psychological problems, traditional treatments include therapy and anti-depressant medication. Sufferers can be prescribed with therapy sessions, dietary plans, as well as with drugs. However, neither psychiatric remedies nor antidepressant medications have shown enough efficacy to address the underlying mental health issues or affect damaging habits. Hence, alternative methods of treatment are also practised, such as lifestyle changing and additional social activities to boost confidence. Yet, the success of alternative methods also varies from case to case. 

This makes CBD a promising solution. A number of scientific research studies suggest that cannabidiol has powerful anti-stress and anti-inflammatory effects. Hence, CBD can be used as an additional treatment of health conditions such as anxiety, chronic pain, depression, inflammation, sleep disorders, sore muscles, and stress. CBD is fully legal in the European Union, and numerous health professionals recommend it for therapeutic treatment.

Scientific Research on Cannabis and Eating Disorders

All mammals, including humans, have a lipid signalling system. It is in charge of the endocannabinoid system (ECS), which functions as cellular communication within the body. In order to communicate between cells, the ECS uses two mediums – receptors and cellular activators. In fact, cellular activators, also called endocannabinoids, act like couriers that deliver messages to a particular receptor. The receptors are organized into the two groups – CB1 and CB2 – and spread throughout the body. CB1 receptors are predominantly located in the brain and affect coordination, emotions, and mood. CB2 receptors are mostly detected in the immune system. They influence inflammation and pain.

Eating disorders can be also associated with a poorly functioning endocannabinoid system. According to recent research, the ECS is responsible for regulating human relationships with food. Therefore, people suffering from anorexia, bulimia, and similar health conditions are likely to have a low or inactive endocannabinoid system.

The healing potential of cannabinoids lies in the way they interact with human ECS. For example, famous THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) directly attaches to CB1 receptors and instigates “high” behaviour. CBD, on the contrary, doesn’t attach directly to any of the receptors. Instead, CBD stimulates them indirectly. As a result, both CB1 and CB2 receptors produce a mild non-psychoactive response.

How Can CBD Help People with Eating Disorders?

First, CBD can facilitate a healthy endocannabinoid system. Thus, by consuming CBD infused products, such as CBD oils or CBD beverages, one might stimulate the ECS into producing cannabinoids on its own. As a result, the ECS will correct the existing imbalances that have initially caused the eating disorder. 

Second, CBD can provide therapeutic assistance to the brain and support mental health. Generally speaking, people with eating disorders have disturbing behavioural patterns. Indeed, in many instances, eating disorders are caused by some inner pressure to maintain an unrealistically thin body image. Usually, people suffering from anorexia or bulimia simultaneously experience anxiety or depression. As for CBD, it has been used as an anti-stress and relaxation remedy for centuries. In this way, by eliminating the accompanying symptoms of eating disorders in the forms of mental frustration, CBD can facilitate the recovery.

Unfortunately, there is no sufficient clinical evidence that CBD can treat anxiety, depression, and mood swings. However, using CBD to reduce the psychological conditions behind eating disorders has its own benefits. Unlike anti-depressants, CBD is natural and doesn’t cause addiction. Moreover, CBD can be slowly integrated into the daily routine without prescription (though it is advisable to consult a health professional if mixed with other drugs). Therefore, evidence suggests that adding CBD to the ratio of people suffering from eating disorders could be beneficial.



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