Do deficits in brain cannabinoids contribute to eating disorders?

October 31, 2011

A new report in Biological Psychiatry suggests that deficits in endocannabinoid function may contribute to anorexia nervosa and bulimia. Endocannabinoids are substances made by the brain that affect brain function and chemistry in ways that resemble the effects of cannabis derivatives, including marijuana and hashish. These commonly abused drugs are well known to increase appetite, i.e. to cause the "munchies". Thus, it makes sense that deficits in this brain system would be associated with reduced appetite.

Researchers measured the status of the endocannabinoid system indirectly by determining whether there was an increase or decrease in the density of endocannabinoid receptors, called the CB1 receptor, in several brain regions using positron , or PET, imaging. They compared these densities in women with anorexia or bulimia with those of healthy women.

They found global increases in ligand binding to CB1 receptors in the brains of women with . This finding is consistent with a compensatory process engaged by deficits in endocannabinoid levels or reduced CB1 receptor function.

CB1R availability was also increased in the insula in both anorexia and bulimia patients. The insula "is a region that integrates body perception, gustatory information, reward and emotion, functions known to be disturbed in these patients," explained Dr. Koen Van Laere, the study's lead author.

"The role of endocannabinoids in appetite control is clearly important. These new data point to important connections between this system and eating disorders," added Dr. John Krystal, Editor of .

Additional research is now needed to establish whether the observed changes are caused by the disease or whether these are neurochemical alterations that serve as risk factors for developing an eating disorder.

Furthermore, since very few effective treatments exist for these disorders, these data indicate that the may be a potential new target for developing drugs to treat eating disorders. Such new therapies are currently being investigated in animal models.

Explore further: New brain research suggests eating disorders impact brain function

More information: "Brain Type 1 Cannabinoid Receptor Availability in Patients with Anorexia and Bulimia Nervosa" (DOI 10.1016/j.biolpsych.2011.05.010)

Related Stories

New brain research suggests eating disorders impact brain function

July 11, 2011
Bulimia nervosa is a severe eating disorder associated with episodic binge eating followed by extreme behaviors to avoid weight gain such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives or excessive exercise. It is poorly understood ...

Does eating give you pleasure or make you anxious?

May 20, 2011
(Medical Xpress) -- Perhaps the most puzzling symptom of anorexia nervosa -- a disorder that tends to occur in young women -- is the refusal to eat, resulting in extreme weight loss. While most people have a great deal of ...

Research into eating disorders and fertility reveals mixed picture

August 3, 2011
Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia are associated with fertility problems and negative attitudes to pregnancy, according to a UK study. The research also revealed high rates of unplanned pregnancies in women with ...

Recommended for you

Perceiving oneself as less physically active than peers is linked to a shorter lifespan

July 20, 2017
Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about equally active as other people your age?

Study examines effects of stopping psychiatric medication

July 20, 2017
Despite numerous obstacles and severe withdrawal effects, long-term users of psychiatric drugs can stop taking them if they choose, and mental health care professionals could be more helpful to such individuals, according ...

New study suggests that reduced insurance coverage for mental health treatment increases costs for the seriously ill

July 19, 2017
Higher out-of-pocket costs for mental health care could have the unintended consequence of increasing the use of acute and involuntary mental health care among those suffering from the most debilitating disorders, a Harvard ...

Old antibiotic could form new depression treatment

July 19, 2017
An antibiotic used mostly to treat acne has been found to improve the quality of life for people with major depression, in a world-first clinical trial conducted at Deakin University.

Wonder why those happy memories fade? You're programmed that way

July 19, 2017
We'll always have Paris." Or will we?

A child's spoken vocabulary helps them when it comes to reading new words for the first time

July 19, 2017
Children find it easier to spell a word when they've already heard it spoken, a new study led by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders (CCD) at Macquarie University has found. The findings ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.