Last year, the FDA recognized a new drug for epilepsy made from marijuana’s own CBD (otherwise known as cannabidiol) (1). That means the marijuana plant may have a confirmed medical use after all.
So what about medical marijuana and diabetes? Can diabetics use the drug to help their condition or safely use it for pleasure?
As more states legalize medical marijuana, people with all kinds of diseases are wondering this same question.
However, diabetics are left reading between the lines of existing studies to make a conclusion. The short answer: experts don’t know for sure.
People with diabetes can discuss how to safely use medical marijuana with their doctors. However, the research is slim and sometimes opposing on whether the drug actually helps diabetes.
One large study published in The American Journal of Medicine points to positive benefits for diabetes (2).
The study was conducted on over 4,600 participants using the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) survey. Of those participating, about 580 used marijuana regularly and over 1,900 had used it in the past. Interestingly, researchers found that using marijuana was associated with a lower fasting insulin level and a smaller waist size.
A review published in the Natural Medicine Journal also highlighted positive outcomes (3). The review cited the NHANES study as well as several mice models that suggest cannabis protected mice from getting diabetes or reduced its severity.
The review also pointed out a study in Israel that revealed a low dose of THC, well below its psychoactive capabilities, could protect the body against organ damage.
But there are studies showing negative effects too. One such study published by the American Diabetes Association showed that marijuana users tended to consume about 20% more food, eat a lesser quality diet involving simple carbs, have higher blood pressure and have a higher percentage of visceral fat (4).
All of these markers could exacerbate diabetes risk. To balance these findings, though, the same study did find that marijuana users had lower overall fat content and a lower BMI.
Other possible (largely unproven) benefits of medical marijuana that many cannabis advocates commonly highlight:
Reducing pain and inflammation
Slowing cancer growth
Muscle relaxant, which could be helpful for multiple sclerosis
Controlling side effects of chemotherapy, such as nausea and vomiting
Officially, the National Institute on Drug Abuse states that not enough large-scale studies have been conducted to provide definitive answers about medical marijuana (5).
One thing is certain, though. In light of the new wave of cannabis interest, this is a field of study researchers cannot overlook.
The difficult task is to conduct such research under available laws, which prohibit the use and study of marijuana by the federal government. Researchers will need to take care to go the proper pathways so that more research can become available and recognized.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (2018, June 25). FDA approves first drug comprised of an active ingredient derived from marijuana to treat rare, severe forms of epilepsy. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/newsevents/newsroom/pressannouncements/ucm611046.htm.
Penner, E. A., Buettner, H., & Mittleman, M. A. (2013). The impact of marijuana use on glucose, insulin, and insulin resistance among US adults. The American Journal of Medicine, 126(7):583-589. doi: 10.1016/j.amjmed.2013.03.002.
Abrams, D. I., & Werner, C. (2014). Marijuana in the Management of Diabetes. Natural Medicine Journal, 6(5). Retrieved from https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2014-05/marijuana-management-diabetes.
Muniyappa, R., Sable, S., Ouwerkerk, R., Mari, A., Gharib, A. M., Walter, M., Courville, A., Hall, G., Chen, K. Y., Volkow, N. D., Kunos, G., Huestis, M. A., & Skarulis, M. C. (2013). Metabolic Effects of Chronic Cannabis Smoking. Diabetes Care, 36(8): 2415-2422. doi: https://doi.org/10.2337/dc12-2303.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018). Marijuana as Medicine: What is medical marijuana? Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/marijuana-medicine.