Loss of appetite

People may experience a reduction of appetite for a range of reasons, including short-term illness and medicinal side effects. This issue is also associated with long-term medical conditions such as diabetes and cancer. While research is ongoing, medical cannabis has been found to stimulate calorific intake among people with such conditions. Functioning as an adaptogen, it can also have the reverse effect - helping in the loss of weight.

Learn more about symptoms

Symptom definition

The loss of appetite may be experienced to different degrees and for a wide range of reasons. They may have less of a desire for food and potentially feel nauseous about the prospect of eating. Such issues typically affect people in the short term, with a natural recovery. However, a longer-term loss of appetite might be a sign of a serious medical issue. As an example, cancer treatment is known to affect the appetite, potentially leading to weight and muscle loss.

Other possible causes of appetite loss include:

  • Common cold and flu
  • Respiratory infection
  • Digestive issues
  • Food intolerances
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Stress

Appetite loss is also associated with these long-term conditions:

  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Asthma
  • Diabetes
  • HIV and AIDS
  • Stomach or colon cancer
  • Anxiety
  • Depression

Standard Treatment

Anybody experiencing appetite loss for no obvious reason should visit their local GP in the first instance for the identification of any underlying issues. This is particularly true of those experiencing symptoms such as stomach pain, nausea, and breathlessness. They may be prescribed medications for the stimulation of appetite and reduction of such symptoms. Talking therapies and antidepressants may alleviate the appetite loss of those suffering from depression. 

A change of dosage might also be recommended where the appetite loss is a side effect of medication. In other instances people may be advised to eat small regular meals, rather than three large meals per day. The diet might also be supported with nutritious and filling drinks such as milkshakes or smoothies.

How medical cannabis could help

Cannabis is known to stimulate hunger, giving people the ‘munchies’. This has been supported by clinical studies, with the dronabinol (syntehtic THC) being found to prompt the release of hunger-promoting hormones throughout the body. However, high-CBD cannabis may have the opposite effect, counteracting the appetite-stimulating effects of the THC. Cannabis may also be an antigen, with different effects on weight depending on the individual’s condition.

Medical cannabis has been found to be of some benefit in the treatment of people with HIV wasting syndrome and chronic illnesses. However, there is little evidence to suggest that such cannabis is of any help in the prevention of weight loss caused by cancer and anorexia nervosa.

Dronabinol studies have shown a positive association with weight gain. Patients suffering from CINV (with concomitant weight loss) and eating disorders have found whole cannabis extract with a THC:CBD balance to aid appetite stimulation and cause increased consumption.

FAQs about Medical Cannabis

FAQs about Medical Cannabis FAQs about Medical Cannabis
Is medical cannabis legal in the UK?

Yes. Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) have been legal since the 1st of November 2018, when they moved from a Schedule 1 product to a Schedule 2 product. This reflects their potential for medical use.

Who is allowed to prescribe medical cannabis in the UK?

Cannabis-based medicinal products, also known as CBMPs, can be prescribed by private consultants, when appropriate, within their specialty area when there is unmet clinical need.

In the UK cannabis medicines are accessed primarily via private clinics. However, any specialist physician can prescribe cannabis medicines. GROW® is here to provide education and support to any specialists looking to prescribe or just to find out more.

Is medical cannabis available on the NHS?

There are 3 licensed medicines which contain cannabinoids – Epidiolex for some forms of epilepsy, Sativex for multiple sclerosis (MS), and Nabilone for chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV). However, only a handful of prescriptions have been issued in the NHS to date.

Most cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) are instead unlicensed, and they must be written on a private prescription, typically issued by private clinics specialising in medical cannabis treatment.

What cannabis medicines are available?

Cannabis medicines come in multiple forms; flowers, often referred to as herbal cannabis (to be vaporised, rather than smoked), oils (taken under the tongue) and capsules. Cannabis medicines come in high-THC, high-CBD and balanced varieties.

Smoking medical cannabis is illegal. Medical cannabis can instead be taken in different forms depending on the desired speed of onset and duration of action, which is discussed between the patient and their doctor.

Which clinic should I use?

It’s important to find a clinic that works for you. Most importantly you need to find a Doctor that specialises in your condition. For example, patients with pain will need to see pain specialist, while those with a mental health condition must see a psychiatrist.

Which pharmacies can I use?

It’s important for patients to know they can use any pharmacy that supplies the appropriate medicines in the UK.

Some clinics have a preferred pharmacy but will be able to send prescriptions to others if needed. If patients have any questions about available medicines, they can contact IPS Pharma.

What should I do before my consultation?

To speed up the process, patients should bring a copy of their medical records. These are then forwarded to the clinic in advance of the first consultation.

Is medical cannabis the same as over-the-counter CBD?

No. Cannabis-based medicinal products (CBMPs) are only prescribed by GMC-registered specialist doctors. As they are medicinal, CBMPs are regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA); which ensures the safety, quality, and effectiveness of medicines in the UK.

Over-the-counter (OTC) CBD products can be purchased without a prescription in pharmacies, health food shops, or online. These may come in forms such as oil tinctures, capsules, or vapes. They are not medicinal products as they are regulated by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) as a food supplement, with a 0.3% limit on THC.

What if I don’t get a prescription?

Patients are free to seek a second opinion from another clinic. Patients should ensure the clinic has communicated their reasons for deciding not to prescribe. It may be that they feel you should try other medicines before trying cannabis medicines, or that they need to see more information about your medical history before they are happy to prescribe.

How can I learn more about medical cannabis?

For patient enquiries - [email protected]

For doctor enquiries - [email protected]

For all other enquiries – [email protected]

Healthcare professionals can also sign up to our Doctor Portal.

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