Chloe I. Rogers & Carly R. Pacanowski


October 19, 2023


Relapse rates in Anorexia Nervosa (AN) remain high, warranting exploration of further treatments. Cannabinoid agonists are of interest as they have shown successful outcomes in the treatment of associated conditions, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. This scoping review explores the endocannabinoid system (ECS), benefits/harms/null effects of cannabinoid treatment, and harms of cannabis use in AN.

PubMed, PsycINFO, Cochrane, and Web of Science were searched for studies published between 2010 and August 2023, with human participants that explored the ECS, cannabinoid treatment, or cannabis use, and included 1 or more keywords for both cannabis and AN in the title and or abstract. Reports describing secondary anorexia, reports not available in English, grey literature, reports combining data from AN with other conditions, and reports only reporting the prevalence of cannabis abuse/dependence were excluded. Data were extracted from 17 reports (n = 15 studies). For the ECS, outcomes included genetics such as allele expression related to the ECS, cannabinoid receptor availability, and circulating levels of endocannabinoids. For benefits/harms/null effects of cannabinoid treatment, outcomes included changes in weight, eating disorder (ED) symptoms, physical activity (PA), and hormones. For harms of cannabis use, outcomes included genetics related to cannabis use disorder and associations between cannabis use and ED symptoms.

Eight studies (n = 8 reports) found abnormalities in the ECS in AN including expression of related alleles, genotypes, and haplotypes, availability of cannabinoid receptors, and levels of endocannabinoids. Three studies (n = 5 reports) found benefits/harms/null effects of cannabinoid treatment. Benefits included weight gain, improved ED symptoms and reduced PA, while null effects included no changes in weight or ED symptoms, and harms included increased PA and lowered adipose hormones. Four studies (n = 4 reports) expanded upon harms of cannabis use, including genetic predispositions to cannabis use disorder, and compensatory behaviors related to cannabis use.

Limited evidence suggests that abnormalities in the ECS in AN may render cannabis a potential treatment for weight restoration and associated symptoms. Future research may wish to investigate individualized dosing approaches to maximize beneficial effects while minimizing harms.

DOI: 10.1186/s40337-023-00887-9


Rogers, C. I., & Pacanowski, C. R. (2023). The relationship between cannabis and anorexia nervosa: a scoping review. Journal of Eating Disorders, 11(1), 186.