Cachexia, or wasting syndrome, is a harrowing and entirely debilitating condition. This disorder is agony for both the person with the condition, as well as for their loved ones. People most often associate cachexia (pronounced Kuh-KEHK-see-uh) with various forms of cancer. However, it can also be onset from other types of diseases and disorders. Some of these include HIV/AIDS, advanced stage kidney disease, liver failure, heart failure, and even severe physical trauma and burns.
What’s perhaps most striking (and sad) about the condition, though, is the lack of reliable treatments for patients. Unfortunately, in the majority of circumstances, wasting syndrome presents itself when the patient’s illness becomes terminal. Sadly, at this stage, it is beyond the point of recovery.
Under these circumstances, all the patient (and their families) can ask for is palliative care. While it is certainly not a cure for the condition, CBD oil may have something to offer to sufferers of cachexia.
CBD oil has been helping countless numbers of patients find relief in the darkest moments of their life. In this article, we talk about what cachexia is and what it does to the body. We also discuss whether or not CBD oil for wasting syndrome can help.
First Things First: What is Cachexia?
The National Cancer Institute has described the wasting syndrome as a kind of “metabolic mutiny.” The body scavenges every last nutrient, vitamin, mineral, and energy source to feed and maintain the brain. As such, it utilizes the vast protein resources in skeletal muscle.
When the body pulls nutrients from the skeletal muscle tissue, the result is a physical withering of the victim’s body mass. This results in massive weight loss and weakness.
Routine motor tasks like walking and using the restroom become exceptionally physically challenging.
In terms of the official definition, doctors often define cachexia as producing weight loss of over 5% within six months. Or when the patient’s body mass index (BMI) becomes less than 20 with accompanying weight loss of at least 2%.
Moreover, a physician must distinguish wasting syndrome from another form of skeletal muscle depletion, called sarcopenia.
How is Cachexia Manifested in the Body?
When cancer (or any autoimmune disorder) ravages the body, every system is called upon to fight it. This takes an incredible (and often fatal) toll on the body. Experts estimate that up to one-third of cancer deaths can be attributed to cachexia.
Dr. Alfred Goldberg of the Harvard University School of Medicine has described wasting syndrome as a large-scale host response. In patients with cachexia, Goldberg says the body has evolved to fight “fasting, injury, and [the spread of] disease.” During this response, he says, the body attempts to scavenge every last energy source. This energy source ultimately ends up coming from amino acids stored in the muscle.
The body converts protein stores (amino acids) into glucose with the strict task of keeping the brain alive and functioning. Since the brain is the control center for every physiologic system, the body will fight to keep it alive at the expense of any other organ or organ system.
Cachexia could also arise in response to widespread inflammation across the body’s various tissue systems. Dr. Teresa Zimmers of Philadelphia’s Jefferson Kimmel Cancer Center, says that inflammation is the “unifying theme of cachexia across many diseases, including cancer.”
Dr. Goldberg has reiterated this sentiment. Goldberg says that inflammation is caused in part by the body’s immune response to cancerous cell growth. This results in the production of pro-inflammatory compounds called cytokines. As you will see here shortly, one of the significant roles of CBD oil is its anti-inflammatory properties. CBD’s anti-inflammatory properties are why some believe that cannabidiol may be helpful for patients with cachexia.
Stages of Cachexia
A physician panel within the National Institute of Health’s Cancer Center has defined three distinct stages, or pathophysiologic developments, of wasting syndrome. These are:
- Pre-cachexia, which features a combination of weight loss of less than 5%, and the appearance of other symptoms. These include impaired glucose tolerance, anorexia, etc.
- Cachexia, including weight loss greater than 5 percent. Or the presence of other symptoms and conditions “consistent with the diagnostic criteria for cachexia.”
- Refractory cachexia: This is when patients already diagnosed with the wasting syndrome (i.e., who are no longer responsive to cancer treatment) have a low-performance score and a life expectancy of fewer than three months.
How Can CBD Oil Help With Cachexia?
As we mentioned in the introduction, CBD oil (or any form of cannabis) is not a cure for wasting syndrome. That being said, there have been extremely positive signs that it may help with the symptoms of the condition. Perhaps more importantly, CBD oil is free from the horrific array of side effects that most high-strength pharmaceutical options present.
In the past, standard treatments for wasting syndrome typically have included prokinetic drugs, such as cisapride and domperidone. Other medications, such as corticosteroids and gestagenes, are used for symptomatic therapy. While these medications are effective in reducing the buildup of inflammation-induced cytokine excess, they have many potential side-effects. Also, for many individuals, they are incredibly cost-prohibitive.
As such, CBD oil has become increasingly attractive to patients suffering from the disorder. As we mentioned earlier, CBD oil has no known side effects and is far cheaper than typical pharmaceutical prescriptions. In 2017, the World Health Organization stated that CBD oil is “not associated with abuse potential, [nor does it] induce physical dependence, [and it is] generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”
However, CBD for wasting syndrome has not shown better results in comparison to conventional treatments. One 2004 study showed that while active cannabinoids were more effective than a placebo, they were less effective than gestagenes.
The main benefit of CBD oil is that it is known to have anti-inflammatory properties.
It is 100% all-natural, appetite-stimulating, with much milder side effects than pharmaceutics. Moreover, CBD oil is vastly different from THC in that it doesn’t produce a high. The active compound interacts mostly with receptors in the body’s immune system. Therefore, patients can use CBD oil to obtain all the medicinal and therapeutic benefits of cannabis without getting “stoned.”
What Does the Research Say?
Bar-Sela et al. carried out a pilot study that the Integrative Cancer Therapies medical journal published in January 2019. The study aimed to evaluate the effect of dosage-controlled cannabis capsules on CACS in advanced cancer patients. The primary objective of the study was for each participant to achieve a weight gain of ≥10% from their baseline.
Interestingly the researchers used capsules containing both THC and CBD. The participants received two 10mg capsules (9.5mg THC, 0.5mg CBD) per 24-hour period for six months. However, if a participant suffered any side effects, the researchers would reduce the dosage to two 5mg capsules (4.75mg THC, 0.25 CBD) per 24-hour period.
Of the initial 24 patients who signed the consent form, only 17 started the cannabis capsule treatment. Of these 17 participants, only 11 took the cannabis capsules for more than two weeks. Only 6 of these participants continued the treatment until the end of the study. Only 3 of these 6 participants achieved a weight gain of ≥10% from their baseline weight. The other 3 participants had stable weights.
The authors attributed the rate of dropout in the study to disease progression and side effects from the cannabis capsules. In their self-reports, participants stated that they experienced an improvement in appetite and mood. They also reported a reduction in pain and fatigue.
Bar-Sela et al. believe that the results justify a larger study utilizing dosage-controlled cannabis capsules.
Final Thoughts on CBD Oil for Wasting Syndrome
Again, we are not recommending CBD oil for cachexia or saying that it can cure or even treat the disorder. The evidence that CBD oil is an effective appetite-inducer is purely anecdotal.
Significantly, the pilot study carried out by Bar-Sela et al. included cannabis capsules that contained both THC and CBD. Therefore, the most recent research is focusing on the efficacy of both cannabis compounds in conjunction with one another, rather than CBD oil on its own.
If you are a patient with cachexia and are considering using CBD oil to treat your symptoms, then it is vitally important that you seek advice from your medical professional beforehand.
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