BY KASANDRA BRABAW
Photograph by Bonnie Kittle/Unsplash
When you think about cannabis, you think about getting the munchies. Even if you’ve never used the plant, entire movies are dedicated to the search for good eats following a few puffs of a joint. But research has shown that cannabis can be useful in managing everything from cancer to ADHD to Crohn’s disease and more. And while the idea sounds counterintuitive, according to a few chat rooms, it seems to help binge eating disorder (BED), too.
Why do we get hungry?
When you’re in the throes of the munchies, it feels like you can’t stop eating. The science behind that feeling is more complicated -- it’s not just hunger you’re feeling. Research from Yale tells us that cannabis does indeed stimulate appetite while further studies explain why. The cannabinoids also activate your taste buds, particularly the ones that detect sweetness and everything becomes more delicious.
So, how can it help binge eating disorder?
Well, it’s tricky to explain. “It doesn’t really make a lot of sense to investigate this avenue,” says Deborah Glasofer, PhD, a psychiatrist at Columbia University who specializes in eating disorders. You’ll find very little scientific research about using cannabis for binge eating disorder, she says, because it seems nonsensical. “It impacts people's eating behavior in a way that’s opposite of what someone who has the disorder would be looking to work on,” Dr. Galsofer says.
Dr. Glasofer does have patients with BED who use cannabis, but they don’t use it to curb their appetites. Instead, they recognize that using it could be a trigger for behavior they want to avoid. “Often, they’re working on improving regular eating and curbing episodes of binge eating that will involve curbing use of marijuana as well,” she says.
But what about people using cannabis to manage BED?
Stress and anxiety management seems to be the common answer -- cannabis helps you rethink your approach to food. One respondent to a Quora question suggested, “You’re able to eat without worrying about [what’s] ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It might also slow you down and help calm the binges. Or maybe it helps you eat without feeling guilty afterwards?” And that person isn’t alone in that theory -- Bustle’s Gina Florio agrees. In an essay about her BED experience how weed taught her to slow down and appreciate food. Coupled with therapy, it helped her listen to her stomach when it said she has enough.
So what’s the takeaway?
As Dr. Glasofer explains, there are effective treatments including behavioral cognitive therapy and interpersonal therapy, as well as a number of medications. For a subset of people, they’re also supplementing traditional therapies with cannabis, especially as it concerns stress management. Intuitively that makes sense but it’s important to remember it’s still a guess. We have no scientific proof that cannabis helps with binge eating. If you do have trouble with binge eating, talk to your doctor before trying this as a treatment. If you haven’t first worked with a therapist to manage your BED, there’s a good chance cannabis could hurt instead of help.