New research suggests that deficits in endocannabinoids — the body’s own substances like those found in marijuana — may contribute to anorexia nervosa and bulimia.
Endocannabinoids are made by the brain, and they affect brain function and chemistry in ways that resemble the effects of cannabis. Marijuana, when used both medicinally and recreationally, is well known to influence appetite, i.e., causing hunger or the “munchies.”
Therefore, deficits in the endocannabinoid system would logically be associated with reduced appetite, reports Rick Nauert, Ph.D., at PsychCentral.
In the new study, reported in Biological Psychiatry, scientists measured the status of the endocannabinoid system indirectly by finding whether there was an increase or decrease in the density of endocannabinoid receptors called the CB1 receptor.
The researchers used positron emission tomography (PET) imaging to study several different regions of the brain. They then compared these densities in women with anorexia or bulimia with those of healthy women.
Lead researcher Dr. Koen Van Laere
Researchers found evidence of deficits in endocannabinoid levels or reduced CB1 receptor function in the brains of women with anorexia nervosa. CB1 receptor availability was affected in the insula in both anorexia and bulimia patients.
The insula “is a region that integrates body perception, gustatory information, reward and emotion, functions known to be disturbed in these patients,” said Dr. Koen Van Laere, the study’s lead author, according to Elsevier.
“The role of endocannabinoids in appetite control is clearly important,” said Dr. John Krystal, editor of Biological Psychiatry. “These new data point to important connections between this system and eating disorders.”
According to the scientists, additional research is now needed to find whether the observed changes are caused by the disease, or whether these are neurochemical alterations that serve as risk factors for developing eating disorders.
Researchers hope the findings may lead to a new target for developing drugs to treat eating disorders, a practice that is currently being investigated with animal test subjects. Of course, that could be very profitable for big pharmaceutical companies.
Now, when are they going to spend some of that research money studying the effect upon eating disorders of the safe, natural cannabinoids found in marijuana?