New Research Explores Cannabis Use, Binge Eating

A new study by researchers at Drexel University is exploring how cannabis use may affect people with binge eating disorders.

Just about everybody knows that smoking weed can result in a serious bout of the munchies now and then. Researchers at Drexel University in Philadelphia are taking a deeper look at the phenomenon, however, with a new study that explores the possible connection between using cannabis and binge eating.

The research, which was published recently in the journal Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology, investigated how often people subject to binge eating are also using cannabis recreationally. The study also explored whether people who use cannabis experience more severe symptoms of eating disorders or mental illness.

Previous research has explored how using cannabis can affect a person’s eating habits. However, little is known about the impact that using weed can have on binge eating, which is defined as the experience of feeling out of control when eating or unable to stop eating. Prior studies have also found that cannabis use may increase the pleasure people receive from eating foods high in sugar or fat, suggesting that cannabis may play a role in binge eating.

“Distinguishing the relationship between cannabis use, eating disorder severity and other psychiatric symptoms in binge eating patients is necessary for informing screening and clinical recommendations,” lead author Megan Wilkinson, a doctoral student in Drexel Univesity’s College of Arts and Sciences, told Drexel News.

Nearly A Quarter of Binge Eaters Reported Recent Cannabis Use

The new study involved a cohort of participants who were seeking treatment for binge eating. As part of the research, participants reported their use of alcohol and cannabis. The researchers found that more than 23% of the 165 participants reported using cannabis either “once or twice” or “monthly” during the previous three months, suggesting that cannabis use may be associated with binge eating. 

The researchers learned that participants who used weed reported “a strong desire or urge to use cannabis.” They also drank alcohol more frequently and reported more problems related to their use of alcohol. However, the team of researchers noted that participants with eating disorders who were also cannabis users did not have more severe eating disorders or symptoms of depression.

“Both alcohol and cannabis can impact an individual’s appetite and mood. Our finding that patients with binge eating who use cannabis also drink more alcohol may suggest that these individuals are at a higher risk for binge eating, given the compounded effects on appetite and mood from these substances,” Wilkinson said. “Treatments for binge eating should explore how substance use affects hunger, mood and eating for patients.”

The study participants also completed interviews and surveys about their experience with binge eating, depression and symptoms of other eating disorders. The researchers then compared the results of participants who used cannabis with others who did not to determine if there were statistically significant differences in eating disorder symptoms, alcohol use or depression symptoms.

The study’s findings indicate that a significant portion of those with binge eating disorders use cannabis and have a strong desire or urge to do so. The researchers also determined that for patients with binge eating disorders, cannabis use appears to be related to alcohol drinking patterns and problems with drinking such as requiring more and more alcohol to feel intoxicated and the inability to control drinking.

“We hope this research is helpful for clinicians treating patients with binge eating, as it can provide them with updated information about the prevalence of cannabis use in their patients,” said Wilkinson. “We recommend that clinicians screen for cannabis and alcohol use in all their patients and assess any potential problems the patient may be experiencing related to their substance use.”

The researchers noted that continued study of the relationship between cannabis and binge eating will be needed because of the evolving legal landscape and changing social norms surrounding cannabis. Wilkinson and her team are planning a new study to investigate how cannabis use may impact hunger and mood for people with binge eating, factors which could make binge eating symptoms worse.

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