Is Cannabis a Viable Cachexia Treatment?

Up to one-third of cancer deaths can be attributed to a condition called cachexia, a devastating wasting syndrome that causes weight loss and pain for patients and their families. While cachexia occurs with many types of cancer, it can also develop in patients with other late-stage forms of diseases like heart failure, kidney disease, and HIV/AIDS to name a few, leaving many to consider viable cachexia treatments.

Despite its damaging consequences, researchers that study muscle wasting say there hasn’t been enough attention giving to finding better treatments. But it turns out cannabis could help to ease symptoms associated with cachexia and improve quality of life. This article discusses what cachexia is and whether or not medical cannabis is a useful cachexia treatment.

Cachexia Explained

Wasting syndrome is characterized by excess body weight loss that happens when a person’s skeletal and muscle mass is depleted during an illness, even when they aren’t trying to lose weight. While the exact cause of cachexia is unknown, multiple factors likely cause its development and progression.

During late-stage disease progress, cachexia is the body’s way to obtain energy stores from the muscles to help keep the brain functioning. To try and save the brain, the body leeches nutrients and energy from adipose tissue and skeletal muscles. Even when the patient is provided with essential nutrients, doctors can’t turn off this response.

Cachexia is a method the body uses to protect itself during a disease, causing the patient to involuntarily experience symptoms similar to anorexia.

Common Symptoms Associated with Cachexia

Patients with cachexia lose weight. Some will look normal while others will look malnourished. A patient needs to have lost a minimum of 5 percent of their body weight in the past 12 months to be diagnosed with cachexia. Most of those diagnosed experience the following symptoms:

* Reduced muscle strength
* Skeletal muscle wasting
* Severely reduced appetite
* Fatigue
* Reduction in quality of life

Is Cannabis a Good Choice for Cachexia Treatment?

While the symptoms of wasting are severe, there is hope for relief. A 2017 study conducted at Columbia University found that medical cannabis significantly stimulated the appetite of patients suffering from cachexia due to AIDS. The patients were able to increase their calorie intake and gain weight. Another study done in 2011 found that THC consumption helped increase appetite in patients who suffered from cancer by 64 percent.

Research shows that the most effective forms of cannabis for treating cachexia are THC dominant strains, which suggests that THC itself is what helps relieve the related appetite symptoms of wasting syndrome.

Many different forms of cannabis can help patients with things like relaxation, pain, and promoting general well-being, which can improve the quality of life for people who suffer from different types of diseases that lead to wasting.

While the evidence is clear that medical cannabis can benefit patients as a cachexia treatment, oral and sublingual dosing appear to the most effective. Fortunately, there are many varieties of ingestible cannabis products that can help, including sprays, sublingual drops, lozenges, and hard candies for those with difficulty eating or keeping food down.

If you would like to know more about treating cachexia by becoming a Remedy Columbia patient, visit our appointments page for information on new patient registration.