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Cannabis, Cancer, and Loss of Appetite

Decreased appetite and anorexia are ranked among the most troublesome side effects of cancer and its treatment. More than half of patients with advanced cancer experience a lack of appetite or weight loss. This can impact patients’ prognosis, and also be a source of depression or anxiety. Appetite-stimulating drugs that are currently used to stimulate patients’ appetites include megestrol acetate (similar to the female hormone progesterone), metoclopramide (a gut mobility stimulator), steroids including prednisone or dexamethasone, and dronabinol (synthetic THC). All of these drugs except dronabinol are recommended for short-term use only due to their potential side effects.

Endocannabinoids regulate eating behavior via several biochemical pathways in the brain and body, including the hypothalamus, the limbic system, and intestinal tract. These systems control appetite modulation. Medical cannabis and THC, specifically, are known to boost appetite by engaging with the peptides that direct hunger signaling. The appetite increasing properties of THC are valuable in cancer treatment routines, as well as for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimers that can have dramatic effects on patients’ weight.

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