Wasting Syndrome, or cachexia, is a brutal side effect of chronic illnesses. When it popped up on the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) radar in 1987 as an AIDS-defining condition, however, it became clear over time that the ailment is serious enough to require immediate attention on its own. Symptoms like complete lack of energy and the inability to hold onto nutrients, plus extreme weight loss, require immediate and separate medical attention.
While there are more traditional methods of treatment – usually in the form of a pharmaceutical pill, steroids, human growth hormones, or through supplements – many turn to the natural benefits of marijuana to help with their wasting syndrome symptoms. It is known as a helpful and effective source of relief from those who suffer from this condition.
What is Wasting Syndrome?
The name "wasting syndrome" comes from the visual consequences of the condition: Muscles and fat tissues within the body literally waste away. A person is considered suffering from wasting syndrome when they have involuntarily lost more than 10 percent of their overall body weight.
Wasting syndrome is a symptom of other underlying chronic conditions; the most common include HIV/AIDS and cancer, plus congestive heart failure, tuberculosis, lung disease, familial amyloid polyneuropathy, and superior mesenteric artery syndrome, among others. Wasting syndrome can also be born from infections, especially those that lead to extreme nutrient loss.
According to Marijuanadoctors.com, around 5 million people in the United States are affected by wasting syndrome. This figure represents 60 percent of kidney disease patients, between 16 and 42 percent of heart failure patients, and up to 37 percent of HIV/AIDS patients. While this condition is not extremely common, there are a significant number of people suffering from wasting syndrome.
What Happens to the Body
In addition to the extreme weight loss, wasting syndrome takes other tolls on the body through issues of fever, fatigue, and diarrhea for long periods at a time, usually lasting around an entire month.
Long-term problems can also arise from wasting syndrome. For example, it alters metabolism, ultimately impacting how the body converts food into energy. It can make patients look at food differently; making eating harder, messing with taste buds, and making dishes that were once delicious now seem gag-worthy. Wasting syndrome can also make it harder for the body to absorb nutrients – messing with intestinal lining.
Symptoms of Wasting Syndrome
There are several symptoms that go hand-in-hand with wasting syndrome. While incredible weight loss is a tell-tale sign, it is possible for patients to look healthy rather than malnourished. They will, though, have a very light appetite, and notice considerable depletion of muscles and fat – energy levels will be close to zero, constantly tired and fatigued, to the point of complete and often inexplicable exhaustion.
Possible signs, other than the obvious "way too skinny" visual clues, include elevated levels of cytokines in the blood and an albumin level under 35 grams per liter – which often manifests as swollen ankles. A person might have wasting syndrome if they have less than 10 percent body fat and a body mass index (BMI) under 22 for those over the age of 65, or under 20 for people younger.
Marijuana to the Rescue
The loss of lean body mass is a main detriment of wasting syndrome. Your body needs this in order to survive. Cannabis is a natural combatant to this issue; the healing properties of weed offer patients several benefits in a single package.
First, marijuana helps to reduce nausea and vomiting. This is an essential step to managing and treating wasting syndrome, to make sure that nutrients stay in the body rather than get stripped away. Plus, it can soothe the stomach and offer a little bit of relief; no one enjoys a tummy ache, and lighting up can, at the very least, lead to a little peace of mind. If patients are looking for additional perks, such as uplifting mood and fighting depression and anxiety – since fighting and living with chronic illness is difficult and emotionally, mentally, and physically strenuous – marijuana has them covered there, too.
Next, weed gives patients the gift of hunger. That's right – The munchies are a powerful method of combating the lack of appetite that comes with wasting syndrome. Cannabis plain and simply stimulates appetite. When food intake is increased, by the power vested in MMJ, the risk of severe weight loss is lowered. In fact, it can lead to weight gain. Patients can keep the heavy hitting side effects of wasting syndrome at bay with marijuana use.
Access to Medicine
Marijuana laws are always evolving and changing. Luckily, many states in the U.S. list wasting syndrome as a qualifying condition for medical marijuana, usually through the designation of a doctor's recommendation. Other states with recreational legalization also make it easy for patients to get the herbal care they require to help with the condition.
Frustrated about states that still criminalize marijuana? Find out how to become a pot activist.
Strains for Wasting Syndrome
To the surprise of many people outside the cannabis community, marijuana is not one-size-fits all. Different strains lead to varied benefits and results, unique to the genetic makeup of the plant. For example, not all pot smoking leads to lazy, couch-locked giggles; some strains activate and energize. When looking at strains to treat wasting syndrome, it is important to find a strain suited for specific symptoms.
Before choosing a specific strain, it is a good idea to understand the general attributes of the different strain types. Indica strains, for example, are known for their sedative qualities. They have been credited with helping issues like muscle spasms, insomnia, tremors, chronic pain, swelling, anxiety, and stiffness. Sativa strains, on the other hand, tend to energize the body. These have a reputation for combating depression, nausea, headaches, appetite loss, and chronic pain. Then hybrids, which can be either indica or sativa-dominant, often have a mix of characteristics from both.
Check out these strains for wasting syndrome:
Monster Cookies. This indica-dominant hybrid has a powerful, slow-spreading sedative high that can knock a patient out on the couch. Monster Cookies does a few relevant things for patients: it has a strong component of pain relief, followed by a large dose of appetite stimulation. Patients will feel sleepy and fantastic, then hungry.
Platinum Purple Kush. Another indica-dominant hybrid strain is Platinum Purple Kush—the stronger version of Purple Kush. It gives patients the luxury of extreme relaxation paired with mental focus, plus a side of mellow happiness. The best benefit is its hunger: Platinum Purple Kush will give patients the energy to raid the fridge, pursuing a dominant urge to eat.
Sonoma Coma. Sonoma Coma is a sativa-dominant hybrid strain that does not easily back down. This bud has a high THC level, with effects like a lasting cerebral head high, increased energy, a burst of social stimulation, and hunger. When wasting syndrome depletes energy and hunger levels, Sonoma Coma fights back.
Gigabud. Visually known for its large-sized nugs for which its named, Gigabud is a neon green indica-dominant hybrid strain. Gigabud is great for two concerns of wasting syndrome: appetite and pain. This strain backhands both problems, by stimulating hunger and erasing any traces of even the most intense cases of nausea. Other benefits include energy and motivation, plus a full-body calm strong enough to send patients into a rewarding sleep.
Find these strains, plus a full range of other cannabis to help combat wasting syndrome, at a dispensary near you.