Wasting Syndrome and Cannabis: Can it Help?

A Vice article, “Without Early AIDS Patients, The Medical Marijuana Movement Wouldn’t Exist,” says it all. Without the activists from this era who advocated for cannabis reform, we may very well not have cannabis as a treatment option. Back in the 1980s, many individuals with HIV/AIDS found relief from cannabis for their symptoms, particularly those associated with wasting syndrome. While wasting syndrome — also known as cachexia — doesn’t only affect patients with AIDS, it was these patients who became the most visible activists in the late 1980s. But has cannabis been shown to be a viable treatment for wasting syndrome?

What Is Wasting Syndrome (Cachexia)?

Wasting syndrome isn’t a specific disease. Instead, it’s symptomatic of a serious medical condition like cancer, heart failure, and advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It’s commonly defined as a progressive and unintentional loss of 10% or more weight that’s often accompanied by a lack of appetite, decreased strength, diarrhea, fatigue, fever, muscle loss, nutritional deficiencies, and weakness. Wasting syndrome increases the chance of dementia, opportunistic infections, and death.

What Causes Wasting Syndrome?

Wasting syndrome is a common symptom among many severe medical conditions. However, serious medical conditions aren’t the only causes of wasting syndrome. There are many issues that can lead to loss of appetite and weight loss, including:

  • Depression and low energy
  • Medication side effects such as nausea or changes in taste
  • Opportunistic infections
  • Your body’s failure to absorb all the nutrients you’re consuming
  • Damage to the lining of your intestines commonly caused by AIDS, HIV and other conditions

Can Cannabis Treat Wasting Syndrome?

What are some of the most common effects of cannabis? The munchies. Pain relief. Lessening nausea. The well-known effects of cannabis make it a near-ideal treatment for wasting syndrome. One caveat, though. Most medical professionals warn patients against smoking cannabis. Smoking can worsen respiratory issues like bronchitis or COPD. Instea, many patients prefer vaping or edibles, which doesn’t impact the respiratory like smoking.

Marinol (dronabinol), a synthetic form of THC, produces similar effects of cannabis. It can boost your mood and appetite and stabilize your weight. And it’s been approved for use by the FDA. However, many patients report that Marinol causes more side effects and is less effective than botanical cannabis. Unfortunately, insurance companies don’t cover medical cannabis, and many don’t cover Marinol either.

Remedy Columbia Wasting Syndrome and Cannabis patient and doctor

What Else Can be Done to Treat Wasting Syndrome Beyond Cannabis or Pharmaceuticals?

First and foremost, if you find yourself quickly losing significant weight, contact your physician. The same goes if you have severe diarrhea or you notice an infection that’s impacting your stomach or guts.

Make Dietary Changes

In addition, consider making some of the following changes to your diet (with the support of your doctor, of course):

  • Manage your diet: Monitor your diet, weight, and dietary habits. Make sure to eat on a schedule, whether you’re hungry or not.
  • Limit fat, insoluble fibers, whole grains, and vegetables: Consider limiting fat, insoluble fiber (found in some vegetables and whole grains), and lactose found in dairy products. Simple dietary changes can often prevent diarrhea or provide relief from it.
  • Eat more soluble fibers: Some fruits and vegetables, beans, nuts, lentils, and oat bran can help your digestion.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeine, and high-sugar sweets: All of these can only worsen your symptoms.
  • Take nutritional supplements: If you’re not getting enough nutrients you may benefit from protein supplements or nutritional supplements like Ensure and Advera.

Best Strains to Treat Wasting Syndrome

According to crowdsourced reports from medical cannabis patients, the strains below are the most popular among those living with wasting syndrome. This is far from an exhaustive list, but it gives you some ideas:

Wasting Syndrome and Cannabis buds
  • Ancient OG
  • Pure Afghan
  • Red Dwarf
  • Grapefruit Haze
  • Hawaiian Thunder F–K
  • Purple Tears
  • TJ’s CBD (high-CBD)

Our inventory often changes, so we don’t always carry all of these strains. You can check our online dispensary menu to see what is currently available. And if you come by Remedy Columbia, our team will be happy to suggest similar strains with comparable cannabinoid and terpene profiles as these strains.

Final Thoughts

Few things are more distressing than suffering from wasting syndrome or witnessing a close friend or family member endure the symptoms of wasting syndrome. While research is still ongoing, the fact that so many people report medical cannabis has helped them treat wasting syndrome should provide hope to the millions of people affected by this syndrome.

Whether cannabis is right for you is a highly personal decision that most patients make with a knowledgeable cannabis physician. If you decide to use cannabis as a treatment for wasting syndrome, we’d love to you help you. Our team is made up of people who are compassionate, well-trained, and eager to help our patients.

Schedule an appointment today to learn more.

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