The legalization of medical marijuana in more states has led to an explosion of literature on its therapeutic benefits on diabetes. It seems that there are, indeed, positive indications from research. However, there are also counterclaims. Hence, the goal of this article is to present a clearer picture and attempt to answer the question: Is cannabis good for diabetes?
What Is Diabetes?
Diabetes mellitus, commonly called diabetes, is a chronic metabolic disease affecting the regulation of blood sugar levels. Characterized by high blood glucose, this condition could be caused by the lack of insulin or because the body does not respond to insulin. Unless treated or controlled, it may lead to severe complications involving the nervous system, heart, blood vessels, and kidneys.
Unfortunately, there is no cure. The best that can be done is to manage the condition and alleviate its symptoms.
There are three types of diabetes:
- Type 1 is when the body fails to produce or does not produce enough insulin. Usually diagnosed in children and young adults, the treatment involves taking artificial insulin daily.
- Type 2 is the inability of the body to respond to insulin. It is the most common type of diabetes and is associated with obesity.
- Gestational diabetes affects some women during pregnancy as the body becomes less sensitive to insulin. Usually, this condition is resolved after giving birth. Until then, it may cause complications.
Diabetes is a global health concern. WHO reports that from 1980, the number of people affected by this condition has risen from 108 million to 422 million in 2014 (“Diabetes” 2018).
How Cannabis Can Help with Diabetes
To date, the cause of diabetes is mostly unknown. Its effects – how it affects the body – is more than evident, and the more severe cases may lead to loss of vision, damage to the kidneys, and amputation of a limb.
Much of the research on the use of cannabis are either prevention or treatment of diabetes. In some instances, it can be confusing, considering there are contradictory or inconclusive reports.
The National Center for Health Statistics of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, conducted one study. Results showed that marijuana users had a lower age-adjusted prevalence of DM compared to non-marijuana users (Rajavashisth, et al. 2012). More studies are needed to show that there is a direct link between cannabis and the lower instances of diabetes.
In another study, the results indicate no association between cannabis use and subsequent type 2 diabetes (Danielsson, et al. 2016). It is an affirmation of the need to investigate cannabis as possible prevention or treatment. The significance is not lost on the researchers, who also notes that cannabis use is also associated with adverse health outcomes.
1. Obesity and Overweight
Obesity and being overweight increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes (Rogers & Still 2005). By addressing the issue of weight, it may be possible to lower the incidence of diabetes.
Is it possible that cannabis could reduce weight and obesity?
A group of medical researchers sought to investigate how marijuana affects glucose, insulin, and insulin resistance. This study involving 4,657 people showed significant associations between marijuana use, lower levels of fasting insulin and HOMA-IR, and smaller waist circumferences (Penner, Buettner, & Mittleman 2013).
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body is not responding to insulin. Hence, many researchers have tried to understand the mechanisms involved in marijuana’s ability to increased insulin sensitivity. Such attempts, though, is not always successful.
On a positive note, researchers can observe the potential benefits. For instance, a large study showed marijuana users have 16% lower fasting insulin than former and non-users (Penner, Buettner, & Mittleman 2013). Concurrently, this group also had a 17% lower insulin resistance.
What is it about marijuana that could affect the blood glucose level?
One clinical study investigated the effects of CBD and THCV on people with type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemia (Jadoon, et al. 2016). Analysis of the data gathered showed that THCV improved glycemic control manifested by a drop in fasting blood glucose and improved production of insulin. CBD, on the other hand, produced desirable changes in some adipokines and gut hormone concentrations.
3. Diabetic Neuropathy
THC/CBD products abound today in many forms – concentrates, edibles, creams, salves, and more. One of its touted medical use is as a means to alleviate chronic pain. Researchers validated this claim – at least for topical treatment – in one study in which THC/CBD spray reduced peripheral neuropathic pain (Serpell, et al. 2014). For diabetic patients, it could help reduce pain and tingling sensations associated with diabetic neuropathy.
Another study focused on the inhalation of cannabis as the route of administration (Wallace, et al. 2014). Researchers, in this instance, found a dose-dependent reduction in pain intensity.
The implication of these studies is that cannabis may not be a cure, but can help alleviate the symptoms of pain associated with the disease, thus raising the quality of life.
Numerous research has shown the potential of cannabis as an anti-inflammatory. One, in particular, shed light on the mechanism involved – the targeting of 3 glycine receptors (Xiong, et al. 2012). Aside from inflammation, it may also suppress neuropathic pain.
5. Loss of Vision
In severe cases, loss of vision is a possibility among diabetics. This condition – diabetic retinopathy – is the leading cause of blindness among working-age adults. In the USA alone, some 16 million people are affected.
CBD, which does not appear to alter the glucose level in blood and body weight, seems to be helpful in other ways. In one study, researchers found that it could prevent the breakdown of the blood-retinal barrier and neural cell death in diabetic rats as well as block the activation of p38 MAP kinase in the retinas. Furthermore, it could also reduce the following in experimental diabetes:
- Diabetes-induced oxidative and nitrative stress
- VEGF expression
- ICAM-1 expression
- TNF-α levels
These findings (El-Remessy, et al. 2006) show CBD’s neuroprotective and BRB-preserving effects through its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions.
Should You Medicate with Cannabis?
Diabetes is a life-long condition that is either managed or could turn for the worse. One of the most commonly prescribed medicine is Metformin. On the plus side, it has worked well for many people. However, it is also known to deplete some nutrients from the body, hence doctors often would also prescribe supplements.
Cannabis has shown promise in mitigating some of the symptoms associated with diabetes. It is still too early to conclude with finality that it is indeed a viable treatment option. The fact is that there are more clinical trials needed to determine all the mechanisms involved in its therapeutic uses. Until then, it is impossible to create a definitive treatment plan.
One thing you could do is to consult with health care providers regarding the possible use of medical marijuana in conjunction with medication for faster or better relief of the symptoms.
“Diabetes.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 30 Oct. 2018.
Rajavashisth, Tripathi B, et al. “Decreased Prevalence of Diabetes in Marijuana Users: Cross-Sectional Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III.” BMJ Open, vol. 2, no. 1, 2012.
Danielsson, A. K., et al. “Cannabis Use as Risk or Protection for Type 2 Diabetes: A Longitudinal Study of 18 000 Swedish Men and Women.” Journal of Diabetes Research, Hindawi, 24 Oct. 2016.
Rogers, Joanne Z., and Christopher D. Still. “Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes.” Obesity Action Coalition, 2005.
Penner, Elizabeth A., et al. “The Impact of Marijuana Use on Glucose, Insulin, and Insulin Resistance among US Adults.” The American Journal of Medicine, vol. 126, no. 7, 16 May 2013, pp. 583–589.
Jadoon, Khalid A., et al. “Efficacy and Safety of Cannabidiol and Tetrahydrocannabivarin on Glycemic and Lipid Parameters in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Parallel Group Pilot Study.” Diabetes Care, American Diabetes Association, 1 Oct. 2016.
Serpell, M., et al. “A Double‐Blind, Randomized, Placebo‐Controlled, Parallel Group Study of THC/CBD Spray in Peripheral Neuropathic Pain Treatment.” Wiley Online Library, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd, 13 Jan. 2014.
Wallace, Mark S, et al. “Efficacy of Inhaled Cannabis on Painful Diabetic Neuropathy.” The Journal of Pain: Official Journal of the American Pain Society, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 3 Apr. 2015.
Xiong, Wei, et al. “Cannabinoids Suppress Inflammatory and Neuropathic Pain by Targeting α3 Glycine Receptors.” The Journal of Experimental Medicine, vol. 209, no. 6, 14 May 2012, pp. 1121–1134.
El-Remessy, Azza B, et al. “Neuroprotective and Blood-Retinal Barrier-Preserving Effects of Cannabidiol in Experimental Diabetes.” The American Journal of Pathology, American Society for Investigative Pathology, Jan. 2006.