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What Can Cannabis do to Stop Muscle Wasting?

Emily Robertson
Woman who is too skinny

Cannabis improves appetite in chronically ill patients, but research is mixed on it helping reverse muscle wasting (cachexia).

Cancer and HIV/AIDS are severe illnesses with secondary symptoms that can increase mortality rates.  Cachexia, or muscle wasting, is one of these, and now researchers are turning to cannabis to see if, as with many other symptoms of cancer and HIV/AIDS, it can ease the severity of this symptom.

What is Cachexia?

In simplest terms, cachexia is the loss of muscle mass. This can be alongside loss of body fat, but not necessarily. The onset of cachexia affects the body’s composition, and is responsible for around 22% of fatalities in cancer cases as it severely weakens the body. Its onset also affects appetite, energy levels, and the body’s ability to persevere.

Muscle Wasting From Chronic Illness

Cachexia is caused by increased inflammation, and a change in the energy and protein balance in the body, as well as a change in body composition due to the disease and treatment. This condition can also affect those with Crohn’s disease, tuberculosis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Pharmaceutical medications that aim to increase weight mass and improve anabolism are the usual treatment for cachexia. Doctors may also prescribe physiotherapy to build muscle, as well as dietary supplements, NSAIDs, beta-2 adrenergic agonists, and corticosteroids.

Unfortunately, success rates are slim. When cachexia strikes, patients are often already approaching a terminal phase. The current medications can help to alleviate to a degree, but their efficacy is not universal or guaranteed.

Cannabis and Cachexia

Researchers already know that cannabis significantly reduces inflammation and increases appetite. Consequently, it is often prescribed to cancer and HIV patients to help them maintain weight and reduce nausea. It is not clear, however, if cannabis can stop muscle wasting.

Young Girl Vomiting into Toilet

Studies have produced mixed results regarding the efficacy of cannabis compounds (including synthetic cannabinoids) versus medications like megestrol acetate in the treatment of cachexia. There are, however, flaws with the data collection of these studies. While some failed to use placebo control groups, others don’t account for varying dosages per person (smoking versus edibles versus vape). Cannabis affects each individual differently. As such, tolerance may contribute to cannabis’s efficacy in combatting cachexia. Other issues with the research includes using only synthetic cannabinoids, rather than plant-derived cannabinoids. After all, we know that real cannabis is more effective.

So, what should you do if you have muscle wasting from cancer or HIV? Ultimately, consuming cannabis has numerous benefits, including: treating insomnia, preventing nausea, reducing inflammation, increasing appetite, and improving mood. These benefits happen even if cannabis is not able to halt or reverse muscle wasting. As research standards improve for cannabis medicine (access to quality cannabis, dosage controls, placebo), we’ll more likely see positive information regarding how cannabis can treat muscle wasting.

What do you think of these results? Do you have cachexia? Has cannabis been able to help you?

Emily Robertson

Emily Robertson has been writing freelance and contract work since 2011. She has written on a variety of topics, including travel writing of North America and the growing legalized cannabis industry across the globe. Robertson has a master’s degree in literature and gender studies, and brings this through in her writing by always trying to explore different perspectives. Born and raised in southwestern Ontario, Robertson moved to Glasgow, Scotland in 2016 to undergo her doctorate in Scottish Literature. She lives in the West End with her dog, Henley.

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