Cachexia is commonly referred to as the wasting syndrome due to the loss of body weight, fat and muscle mass experienced with the disease. Patients with advanced cancer, AIDS, Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cardiac disease and some other Chronic progressive diseases may become cachectic. Depending on the type of cancer a patient has it is estimated that 50% to 80% of all cancer patients will develop cachexia, usually during the final stages of the illness. With cachexia, the body may be able to gain weight but not the lean body mass necessary to thrive. Contributing factors from anti-cancer drugs and AIDS treatments include nausea, vomiting, stomach pains, body aches, etc. These symptoms often contribute to the patient’s anorexia and inability to maintain healthy body composition.
A commonly used drug is Dronabinol (Marinol) a synthetic form of THC. Dronabinol only accounts for the cannabinoid THC rather than simulating the other beneficial cannabinoids such as CBD, CBN, etc. The synthetic THC reportedly makes some patients feel uncomfortable and too “stoned” so it is not desirable for all patients. Dronabinol does increase appetite; however the same issue of not being able to put on lean muscle remains as the diseases’ most damaging symptom.
Medical Cannabis and Cachexia
Cachexia is currently on the list of qualifying conditions for Medical Cannabis in multiple states, including Illinois. Cannabis serves as a method of symptom management for cachectic patients. As most of us know, using Cannabis can increase your appetite; a feeling traditionally referred to as “the munchies.” This response is beneficial to cachectic patients when addressing anorexia or loss of appetite. Strains high in THC are known to increase appetite, however, THC is also the psychoactive cannabinoid that gives patients the “high” feeling characterize by cannabis, so dosing should be done carefully and cautiously.
Medical Cannabis has also proven to be helpful in dealing with patient’s nausea, vomiting and stomach issues. Cannabis, specifically the cannabinoids THC, CBD and CBN, have proven helpful in reducing nausea and pain. If a patient with cachexia is able to reduce nausea and vomiting, they will then increase their food intake, and depending on the severity of the disease, eventually gain weight. Studies done on inhaling Cannabis with HIV/AIDS patients has produced positive results indicating that patients were able to eat, as well as gain weight with regular use.
Cannabis in its natural form is a desirable treatment for cachexia because of its affordability, easy to dose application and “low risk” side effects. Unfortunately, most pharmaceutical drugs available for cachexia are aggressively treating the host disease rather than the symptoms of cachexia itself.
Because cachexia symptoms are so rough on a patient’s stomach, edibles are not suggested because of their high fat content. However, “lighter” items like tinctures, gel caps or suckers and lozenges are suggested.