Weed and the Need to Feed: An Exploration into Cannabis and Disordered Eating

Written by BlackbirdGo November 27, 2018
The History

When I describe my relationship with food as “complicated,” there are definitely people who don’t understand what I mean by that. But the people who do know how “complicated” can manifest—skipped meals, disordered eating, a decidedly unclear idea of what you even look like, fear of and self-consciousness surrounding food and eating—-know how hard it can be to healthily, and nutritiously, fulfill one of our most basic needs. Thanks to an adolescence spent avidly avoiding meals, I built a dangerous and false association between food and fear. Although I’ve broken most of my unhealthy eating habits, there still lingers a deep-seeded anxiety surrounding food and eating, one that permeates my every meal time. However, I’ve found one thing that helps transcend my psychological hang ups about eating, allowing me to be more at ease with responding to my body’s need to feed: weed.

Smoking weed does more than simply make me hungry, it allows hunger to outweigh fear in such a manner that my anxiety surrounding food dissipates, bringing me a sense of normalcy and a distance from the shame I usually feel when I eat. Weed obviously has different effects on different people, which doesn’t just start and end with, “I (do/do not) like weed,” but extends as far as having different positive psychological and physiological effects on people. While weed helps me feel more comfortable eating, it also has been self-reported by others to help alter their perception of self (as that relates to body dysmorphic disorder), allow them the peace of mind to stop counting calories, and give them the space to feel hunger and respond to that hunger in a non-disordered way.

How cannabis can help those with eating disorders is vastly under studied due to the fact that weed is still classified as a schedule I drug, making it difficult to get a hold of for clinical trial. However, it is important to note that eating disorders are typically comorbid with and often worsened by anxiety disorders, something that is seeing promising results when treated with cannabis. Addressing comorbidities of an illness is important to a holistic treatment process and allows for a potentially more successful recovery. Additionally, it’s important to take into consideration the risks associated with treating eating disorders with pharmaceutical drugs, such as a higher risk for overdose, a higher risk for seizures, and the potential for cardiac arrhythmias. Weed doesn’t pose the same risk for those who struggle with eating disorders as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or benzodiazepines, meaning that it could potentially be more effective for certain people.

With that being said, it is important to note that certain eating disorders shouldn’t be treated with cannabis, such as binge eating disorder or even potentially bulimia, as weed could be an appetite stimulant that causes someone to overeat, thus triggering a cycle of shame and potentially leading to purging. This could also be said for prescription drugs that list weight gain as a side effect, something that could dissuade someone from their course of treatment entirely and also contribute to the binge-purge cycle. It’s also important to note that this risk doesn’t negate weed’s potential for healing for those with eating disorders, it just means that, like with most other medicines, it must be used in compliance with a treatment plan that is tailored to fit an individual’s needs.

Treatment plans for eating disorders usually include cognitive behavioral therapy in addition to any prescription medication. The thing to really keep in mind about eating disorders is that medication alone, regardless of whether that medication is weed or a different prescription drug, is not enough to solve this problem because medications don’t teach coping mechanisms, unlike therapists. But it is also hard to ignore the very real accounts of those of us who have used weed medicinally to help cope with the simple act of eating. The real kicker about eating disorders is that so often they are linked to a misguided sense of control; those afflicted can’t necessarily control the world around them, but they can control their own bodies. In line with this ideal sort of autonomy, it would only make sense to allow those with eating disorders more choices for how they manage and cope with their disorder. Cannabis allows for a natural alternative to prescription drugs and can also be used alongside them. It offers those seeking treatment for eating disorders a means to more personally tailor their recovery.

Eating disorders are as much an issue of perception as they are an issue of the physical and psychological. The behaviors that you take part in build a different conception of what is normal eating behavior and foster self-doubt in one's ability to discern between normal and not—thought patterns that sometimes last years longer than the behaviors themselves. For me, weed didn’t come until later in life, when I thought that most of my trouble with food was behind me. It wasn’t until I started smoking weed that I realized that eating didn’t always have to be rooted so deeply in fear or stress, that it’s as reflexive as needing to drink water or breathing. Smoking weed also helped me to realize that I definitely still have issues surrounding food by providing me with an alternative view of what hunger and eating could be like. With this knowledge, I’ve been able to be more intentional and critical of my thinking and behavioral patterns surrounding my eating and better able to work towards healing.

Disclaimer: Keep out of reach of children. For use only by adults 21 years of age and older.