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Addressing Marijuana in Eating Disorder Recovery

Marijuana is becoming a fixture of discussion as more laws are passed regulating its medical use. In the eating disorder community, there are varying opinions as to using marijuana in eating disorder recovery and the role it can play.

Marijuana as Medicine
Clinicians and researchers are beginning to look into how marijuana can promote eating disorder recovery, particularly how it’s tendency to stimulate the metabolism and increase the appetite may be useful in the re-feeding process of patients with anorexia.  Marijuana is also being evaluated for its ability to relax the user and assist them in opening up, as some believe this might help the therapeutic processes of recovery.

In regard to reputable organizations responsible for denoting best practices in eating disorder treatment, neither the Academy for Eating Disorders nor the National Eating Disorders Association has recommended marijuana for treatment [1].  With these potential benefits, why isn’t marijuana being considered more seriously?

Issues with Medical Marijuana in Eating Disorder Treatment
The difficulty with the benefits of marijuana in eating disorder treatment as stated above is that they are simply replacing one type of avoidance-based coping tool with another. Using the above approaches would solve the immediate problem but are counterproductive to addressing the root of the issue.

A big part of marijuana in eating disorder rehab involves the patient taking control over their disorder by mindfully choosing each aspect of treatment. Attempting to take a shortcut through this process may seem effective in the short-term but can result in continued, or worsened, issues in the long-run.

In the same vein, using marijuana to increase someone’s appetite may make them eat, but it is also likely to increase the feelings of guilt and shame that they have afterward as they, again, haven’t learned the necessary healthy coping mechanisms to deal with doing so.

Marijuana impacts each person differently. While it may cause some to calm down, it can cause others more anxiety and worsen OCD or perfectionist tendencies.

Additionally, studies have not consistently proven marijuana is successful across numerous populations, which makes it a risky treatment.

Risks Associated with Marijuana Use
Studies show that 25% of patients with bulimia and 5.25% of patients with anorexia use marijuana [3]. Additionally, 50% of those with eating disorders have comorbid substance abuse problems, increasing the likelihood that they may become dependent on the drug.

Dr. Kim Dennis put it well: “If a person becomes dependent on marijuana to manage her eating disorder, she doesn’t have the freedom that a person in recovery has. The person in recovery has done work to uncover and heal the underlying issues [1].”

Additionally, marijuana is proven to have more harmful effects on younger patients’ cardiac systems, brains, and bodies [1]. Were marijuana to be used as an eating disorder treatment, the 40% of teenagers [2] diagnosed could be seriously harmed by using it.

If you are considering using marijuana in eating disorder treatment and manage your disorder, strongly consider the above information. Heal yourself thoroughly and properly and the benefits will far outlast those of a quick fix.