Treating Cachexia with Cannabis
Cachexia (Ka-KEK-see-a) is commonly referred to as the wasting syndrome due to the loss of body weight, fat and muscle mass experienced with the disease. Patients with advanced cancer, AIDS, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiac disease and some other chronic progressive diseases may become cachectic. While the exact cause of cachexia is still unknown there is research indicating that the response of the immune system to the tumor has a great deal to do with the prognosis. In HIV/AIDS patients’ cachexia is usually the result of an infection.
Cachexia invariably occurs with anorexia; an abnormal loss of appetite for food. Anorexia can be caused by cancer, AIDS, mental disorder (i.e. anorexia nervosa) or other diseases. Depending on the type of cancer a patient has it is estimated that 50% to 80% of all cancer patients will develop cachexia, usually during the final stages of the illness. Cachexia is not the same as starvation where a healthy person’s body can adjust by slowing down its use of nutrients. With cachexia the body may be able to gain weight but not the lean body mass necessary to thrive.
Contributing factors from anti-cancer drugs and AIDS treatments include nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, body aches, etc. These symptoms often contribute to the patient’s anorexia and inability to maintain healthy body composition.
Traditional Treatment Options:
As of yet there is no widely accepted drug used to treat cachexia, however the standard is an appetite stimulant called Megance together with intravenous or oral feeding. Megace is a progestogen which focuses on controlling the growth of the tumor and weight gain is just a side effect of the medicine. Unfortunately the weight gain caused byMegance is in the form of fat rather than the lean tissue patients are in need of rebuilding.
Another commonly used drug is Dronabinol (Marinol) a synthetic form of THC. Dronabinol only accounts for the cannabinoid THC rather than simulating the other beneficial cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN, etc. The synthetic THC reportedly makes some patients feel uncomfortable and too “stoned” so it is not desirable for all patients. Dronabinol does increase appetite; however the same issue of not being able to put on lean muscle remains as the diseases’ most damaging symptom.
In its early stages cachexia is often treated with sterioids and/or nutritional supplements that provide easy-to-absorb nutrients. Currently there are studies being done with human growth hormone treatments, although the cost to patients’ could reach $40,000 per year. At this point cachexia treatments are decided on a case by case basis depending on the ailment, accompanying symptoms and severity of the disease.
Medical Marijuana Management:
Cachexia is currently on the list of qualifying conditions for Medical Marijuana in the state of Colorado amongst most others. Cannabis serves as a method of symptom management for cachectic patients. As most of us know using marijuana can increase your appetite, a felling traditionally referred to as “the munchies.” This response is beneficial to cachectic patients when addressing anorexia or loss of appetite. Strains high in THC are known to increase appetite, however, THC is also the psychoactive cannabinoid that gives patient’s the “high” feeling characterize by cannabis, so dosing should be done carefully and cautiously.
Medical marijuana has also proven helpful in dealing with patient’s nausea, vomiting and stomach issues. Cannabis, specifically the cannabinoids THC, CBD and CBN have proven helpful in reducing nausea and pain. If a cachexia patient is able to reduce nausea and vomiting they will then increase their food intake and depending on the severity of the disease, eventually gain weight. Studies done on inhaling marijuana with HIV/AIDS patients has produced positive results indicating that patients were able to eat as well as gain weight with regular use.
Marijuana in its natural form is a desirable treatment for cachexia because of its affordability, easy to dose application and “low risk” side effects. Unfortunately, most pharmaceutical drugs available forcachexia are aggressively treating the host disease rather than the symptoms of cachexia itself.
Because cachexia symptoms are so rough on a patient’s stomach, edibles are not suggested because of their high fat content. However, “lighter” items like Mountain High Suckers and Lozenges, Dazy’s Hash Hard Candy and Aces Wild Hard candy could be an option for higher functioning patients. Strains high in THC, CBD and/or CBN are going to be the most medicinal choices for chachexia patients. We recommend Dark Knight, Purple Diesel, Golden Goat, Flo and White Widow.