Can CBD Help With Eating Disorders?

Eating disorders are severe conditions related to persistent eating behaviors that negatively impact health, emotions, and the ability to function in critical areas of life. 

Three of the most common eating disorders are anorexia nervosa, binge eating disorder (BED), and bulimia nervosa.

Most eating disorders involve too much focus on weight, body shape, and food, leading to dangerous eating behaviors. These behaviors can significantly impact the body’s ability to obtain appropriate nutrition. 

Eating disorders can damage the heart, digestive system, bones, and teeth and mouth, and lead to other diseases (1).

Anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are just a few additional mental health diagnoses that frequently co-occur with eating disorders.

A study of more than 2,400 individuals hospitalized for an eating disorder found that 94% of the participants had a coexisting mood disorder (2).

According to The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA), recent research has found that 32-39% of individuals with anorexia, 33% of those with BED, and 36-50% of those with bulimia also have depression. 

Moreover, 48-51% of individuals with anorexia and 55-65% of those with BED are also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. As much as 81% of those with bulimia also have an anxiety disorder (3).

How CBD Can Help With Anorexia Nervosa

Anorexia nervosa is characterized by weight loss, difficulty maintaining appropriate body weight, and a distorted body image (4).

In anorexia’s cycle of self-starvation, the body is denied the essential nutrients it needs to function normally, resulting in serious medical consequences.

CBD may help improve mood associated with anorexia by reducing anxiety. Published in CNS and Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets, a study showed that CBD had therapeutic uses as an anti-anxiety-like and antidepressant-like compound (5). 

Researchers of a 2018 study published in the Frontiers in Immunology Journal, also obtained similar results, demonstrating CBD as a potential remedy to depression (6). 

Findings in a study support theories that brain networks regulating appetite are disrupted by chronic anxiety or stress in a manner that could promote eating disorders or obesity (7).

Thus, reducing stress levels may help improve mood and encourage healthy eating.

How CBD Can Help With Binge Eating Disorder

Binge eating disorder (BED) is a severe, life-threatening, and treatable eating disorder characterized by repetitive episodes of consuming large quantities of food too fast and to the point of discomfort. 

BED also brings about a feeling of a loss of control during the binge. Two out of three individuals with BED are labeled clinically obese (8).

Individuals with BED often eat alone because of feeling embarrassed by how much they are eating. Then, they feel disgusted with themselves, depressed, or very guilty afterward. 

CBD may help reduce cravings by regulating the body’s reward system so that the cravings are not that severe (9).

CBD, through the actions of the endocannabinoid system, also impacts hormones that regulate appetite.

In a 2008 study, which was published in the PLOS One Journal, researchers investigated the interaction between ghrelin and the cannabinoid systems on the mechanisms underlying appetite regulation (10). 

The researchers found that CBD blocks a receptor in the brain of mice so that the neurotransmitter ghrelin, which stimulates the appetite, is unable to act.

They also found that the effects of ghrelin require an increased release of endocannabinoids to stimulate the appetite.

A 2001 animal study published in Nature Journal has shown that CBD could increase the levels of leptin in the brain (11). 

Leptin is the hormone that makes an individual feel full or satiated. Taking CBD at the end of an eating period may help curb cravings.

A 2016 study, conducted by researchers from the Department of Biotechnology at Daegu University in Korea, found that CBD might have some impact on turning white fat to brown fat, a process called ‘fat browning’ that purportedly promotes a healthier metabolism (12). 

As the ECS also plays a vital role in insulin regulation, the added boost from CBD might support this action.

When insulin transports glucose to the cells, the mitochondria (the cells’ energy factories) transform it into energy. However, when insulin resistance sets in, the mitochondria experience dysfunction.

In 2016, through a lab study that examined the impact of CBD on the metabolic function of fat cells, researchers noted an improvement in mitochondrial function with the application of CBD (13). 

According to the researchers, CBD may be explored as a potentially promising therapeutic agent for the prevention of obesity.

How CBD Can Help With Bulimia Nervosa 

Bulimia nervosa is a severe and potentially life-threatening eating disorder that involves a cycle of bingeing and purging behaviors, like self-induced vomiting designed to undo or compensate for the effects of binge eating (14).

In the same way that CBD may help those with BED, CBD may help individuals with bulimia not to binge.

Individuals with BED always worry or complain about being fat as they have a distorted, excessively negative body image of themselves.

CBD may help individuals with bulimia improve their mood by reducing their anxiety levels. Less worrying may encourage them to eat healthily.

Conclusion

The human body is usually resilient at coping with the stress of eating disorders. Laboratory tests can appear perfect even as someone is at high risk of death. 

CBD has been shown to help with eating disorders by reducing anxiety and depression and through its impact on the hormones that regulate mood and appetite.

However, studies on CBD and eating disorders are limited, and the long-term effects of CBD remain unknown.

Thus, before using CBD to help with eating disorders, its symptoms, or related medical conditions, consult with a doctor experienced in cannabis use for advice. 


  1. Mayo Clinic. (2018, Feb 22). Eating disorders. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/eating-disorders/symptoms-causes/syc-20353603.
  2. NEDA. Anxiety, Depression, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/anxiety-depression-obsessive-compulsive-disorder.
  3. NEDA. op.cit.
  4. NEDA. Anorexia Nervosa. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/anorexia.
  5. de Mello A et al. “Antidepressant-Like and Anxiolytic-Like Effects of Cannabidiol: A Chemical Compound of Cannabis sativa”, CNS & Neurological Disorders – Drug Targets (2014) 13: 953. https://doi.org/10.2174/1871527313666140612114838.
  6. Crippa JA, Guimarães FS, Campos AC, Zuardi AW. Translational Investigation of the Therapeutic Potential of Cannabidiol (CBD): Toward a New Age. Front Immunol. 2018;9:2009. Published 2018 Sep 21. DOI:10.3389/fimmu.2018.02009.
  7. Hardaway JA, Crowley NA, Bulik CM, Kash TL. Integrated circuits and molecular components for stress and feeding: implications for eating disorders. Genes Brain Behav. 2015;14(1):85–97.
  8. NEDA. Binge Eating Disorder. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/bed.
  9. Prud’homme M, Cata R, Jutras-Aswad D. Cannabidiol as an Intervention for Addictive Behaviors: A Systematic Review of the Evidence. Subst Abuse. 2015;9:33–38. Published 2015 May 21. DOI:10.4137/SART.S25081.
  10. Kola B, Farkas I, Christ-Crain M, Wittmann G, Lolli F, Amin F, et al. (2008) The Orexigenic Effect of Ghrelin Is Mediated through Central Activation of the Endogenous Cannabinoid System. PLoS ONE 3(3): e1797. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0001797.
  11. Di Marzo, V., Goparaju, […], and Kunos G. Leptin-regulated endocannabinoids are involved in maintaining food intake. Nature 410, 822–825 (2001). https://doi.org/10.1038/35071088.
  12. Parray, H.A., Yun, J.W. Cannabidiol promotes browning in 3T3-L1 adipocytes. Mol Cell Biochem 416, 131–139 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11010-016-2702-5.
  13. ibid.
  14. NEDA. Bulimia nervosa. Retrieved from https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/learn/by-eating-disorder/bulimia.
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