Cannabis and Cachexia Treatment: Can THC Help Wasting Syndrome?

Medically reviewed by Dr. Brian Kessler, MD

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Cachexia, also called wasting syndrome, results in rapid muscle loss, as well as a severe reduction in appetite. Individuals with cachexia will also often lose fat, as their bodies encounter nutrients in a different manner.1

There is a great deal left to learn about how cachexia occurs. Cachexia is extremely common in patients with cancer. In fact, the National Cancer Institute estimates that 80% of those with advanced cancer will experience cachexia. Additionally, the condition is directly related to 30% of cancer deaths, as the loss of muscle can cause heart failure or respiratory distress.  

Because cachexia can be extremely complex and individualized, finding the right treatment can be difficult.

What Causes Cachexia?

Chronic illness is currently identified as the primary cause of cachexia, though there is still much we don’t understand about how the condition develops.

There isn’t a singular chronic illness that causes cachexia. Instead, the body’s decline and various health concerns can combine over time, resulting in dramatic weight loss.

Cancer is one of the most likely factors in the development of cachexia, and one of the most difficult to treat.2 Cancer treatments like chemotherapy can cause nausea in patients, leading to decreased appetite and lower body mass.

HIV has also been linked to wasting syndrome, with cachexia typically occurring during the later stages of HIV, which can significantly contribute to an individual’s health decline.3

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Cachexia Signs & Symptoms

Understanding the signs and symptoms of cachexia is important, especially if you have chronic health problems, so that treatment can be received as soon as possible.

Those that are experiencing cachexia may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Rapid weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Reduced appetite
  • Anemia

While these symptoms are common, cachexia can vary widely between individuals. For example, some people with wasting syndrome may stop eating entirely. On the other hand, some individuals are able to continue eating a balanced, healthy diet but continue to lose weight anyway.

How Cannabis Can Help Alleviate Cachexia

elderly man smoking cannabis

While cannabis is not been proven as a direct treatment for cachexia, it is known to address one of the most common symptoms of wasting syndrome: loss of appetite.4 Cannabis is often used to increase appetite, in an effect known as “the munchies.”5 It’s important to note that cannabis will typically only make an individual feel hungry while they’re under the influence: it won’t permanently cure a loss of appetite.

If you’re considering using cannabis for appetite stimulation, talk to your doctor about edibles or tincture options as they provide long-lasting effects and come in a variety of THC/CBD ratios. Topical cannabis applications won’t provide the appetite-stimulating benefits, and inhaling smoke can irritate the lungs and throat (two side effects that may be detrimental if you’re managing a chronic illness). 

Inflammation is another symptom that can manifest in those with cachexia. Cannabis has shown potential to reduce inflammation.6 Even low doses of cannabis can be extremely helpful at reducing inflammation. 

Legality and Doctor’s Recommendation

To determine if your state considers cachexia to be a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, check out our Laws & Regulations section for the medical cannabis rules for your state.

If you find that your state recognizes cachexia or its symptoms as a qualifying medical condition, you can seek a doctor’s recommendation to get your medical cannabis card in your state.

How NuggMD Can Help

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NuggMD is the nation's leading medical marijuana technology platform, serving patients in 22 states and growing. We’ve connected over 1,000,000 patients with their new medical marijuana doctors face-to-face via our state-of-the-art telemedicine platform. 

We believe that every human being has the right to explore the benefits of medical cannabis and are fully committed to helping each patient explore all of their options in their journey to wellness. For further information on whether you qualify for medical cannabis, select your state.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Cannabis & Cachexia

Dealing with cachexia can feel overwhelming. If you’re searching for solutions and considering  cannabis as a potential treatment, below are some frequently asked questions about cannabis and cachexia.

Is it possible to use  THC as an appetite stimulant? 

While THC has the potential to increase appetite more than other cannabinoids, some strains are known to have the opposite effect. It is best to speak with your doctor or a qualified medical cannabis pharmacist if you are seeking specific effects from your next purchase.

Are there terpenes that increase appetite? 

Different terpenes will have a variety of benefits. Myrcene, limonene, and caryophyllene are all great options for inducing hunger. If you’re going to be using cannabis for the first time and aren’t sure which strain is right for you, consider speaking with a cannabis professional about all your different options. 

Can wasting syndrome be reversed? 

While cachexia can be treated, it’s not often able to be cured. Typically,  cachexia has a lasting impact on the body that’s not able to be reversed. In order for more treatment options and a better possible outcome, cachexia should be addressed as soon as possible. It’s important to note that cachexia treatment isn’t as simple as increasing calorie intake. There are a variety of factors that need to be addressed with your healthcare provider.

Is it safe to use cannabis if I have cancer? 

Ask your doctor before adding cannabis to any treatment regimen. In most cases, cannabis is safe to use if you have cancer, and it is commonly used by patients to get relief from nausea, pain, and other symptoms and treatment side effects.

Is it guaranteed that cannabis will increase my appetite? 

Everyone has a different reaction to cannabis, so it’s not possible to guarantee any specific effects. However, many consumers experience an increase in appetite after using cannabis, and the right strain or product may help increase appetite.

The information in this article and any included images or charts are for educational purposes only. This information is neither a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional legal advice or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about laws, regulations, or your health, you should always consult with an attorney, physician or other licensed professional.

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