The prevalence of diabetes continues to grow worldwide, and the world needs an effective solution to this problem. Scientists have studied the effect of cannabis on the prevention of diabetes and obesity, which is the main cause of diabetes. Cannabis may have diabetes benefits, of which we highlight five.
Diabetes is a term for a group of related metabolic disorders characterized by persistently high blood sugar levels. Diabetes affects over 420 million people worldwide, causing millions of deaths each year, and its prevalence is growing. There is ample evidence that cannabis can help prevent and treat disease.
There are two main types of diabetes:
Diabetes is associated with high fasting insulin and insulin resistance, as well as low high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. In 2013, the results of a five-year study on the effects of cannabis on fasting insulin and insulin resistance were published in the American Journal of Medicine. Of the 4657 respondents, 2554 used cannabis (579 were current users and 1975 were former users) and 2103 had never used it.
The researchers found that active cannabis users had 16 percent less fasting insulin and 17 percent less insulin resistance, as well as higher HDL cholesterol levels, than respondents who had never used cannabis. Respondents who have used cannabis during their lifetime but do not currently use cannabis showed similar but less pronounced associations, suggesting that the protective effects of cannabis wear off over time.
The researchers also analyzed the data excluding people with diabetes. Even after excluding diabetics, current cannabis users were found to have decreased fasting insulin and insulin resistance, suggesting that cannabis can help prevent diabetes and control symptoms in diagnosed cases.
Insulin resistance (IR) is a condition that causes cells to override the normal mechanism of production of insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas that is fundamental to regulating glucose metabolism. IR is associated with type 2 diabetes. In type 1 diabetes, the body cannot make insulin, whereas in type 2 diabetes, insulin production is not impaired, but cells cannot process it.
When cells become insulin-resistant, they can no longer take up the glucose needed to supply energy, and unused glucose builds up in the bloodstream, leading to hyperglycemia.
Authors of a 2013 study found that current cannabis users have an average IR of 1.8, compared with 2.2 for previous users and 2.5 for those who have never used cannabis. It has also been found that current cannabis users have lower blood sugar levels compared to previous and non-users. Current users had an average blood sugar level of 99.7 mg / dL compared to 100.6 mg / dL in previous cannabis users and 103.5 mg / dL in those who did not use cannabis. However, the exact mechanism by which cannabinoids affect IR is not yet known.
Obesity, high body mass index (BMI), and large waist size are associated with the risk of type 2 diabetes. There have been various studies on the relationship between cannabis use and BMI – with conflicting results. A 2005 Young People Study found that cannabis use was not associated with a higher BMI, while two large national studies showed slightly lower BMI and reduced obesity among cannabis users, despite above average daily calorie intake. A previously cited 2013 study found that cannabis use was associated with a smaller waist than non-users.
Although the mechanism underlying the complex relationship between the endocannabinoid system, obesity, and diabetes is not yet fully understood, a 2012 study found that obese rats lost significantly and gained weight in their pancreas after exposure to organic cannabis extract.
The increase in pancreatic weight indicates that the beta cells of the pancreas (which are responsible for the production of insulin) are protected by the presence of cannabinoids. In type 1 diabetes, the beta cells are destroyed by an autoimmune response, so protecting the beta cells can help control the disease.
People with diabetes often develop nervous disorders as a result of the disease. Nerve damage often affects the periphery, such as the arms and legs, but can occur in any organ or area of the body. The damage can be asymptomatic, but in many cases the condition is accompanied by pain, tingling, and numbness. Like many other forms of nervous pain, diabetic neuropathy is difficult to treat with traditional pain relievers. However, there is evidence that cannabis may play a role too.
A study published in 2009 examined the antinociceptive (pain relieving) effects of cannabidiol extract on diabetes-related neuropathy in rats. The authors found that repeated administration of the CBD extract significantly alleviated mechanical allodynia (painful response to non-painful stimuli) and restored normal pain perception without inducing hyperglycemia.
Cannabis has also been found to protect the liver from oxidative stress (thought to be an important factor in neuropathy) and to raise nerve growth factor levels to normal levels.
However, studies in humans have so far yielded less positive results. Also in 2009, a randomized controlled trial examined the ability of GW Pharmaceuticals’ Sativex spray to relieve symptoms of diabetic peripheral neuropathy. Thirty subjects were treated with either Sativex or placebo. Pain scores improved significantly across the board, but the effect of Sativex was not significantly higher than that of placebo.
Up to 80 percent of diabetic patients with the condition for more than ten years will develop a complication called diabetic retinopathy (DRP). In this case, retinal cells are gradually damaged. This disease is responsible for about five percent of the annual new cases of blindness in the United States.
DRP is associated with glucose-induced destruction of the external blood-retinal barrier, a network of densely packed cells that prevent unwanted substances in the blood from entering the mesh tissue. This disruption causes the nerve tissue to be exposed to neurotoxins and increases the likelihood of bleeding in the retina.
The processes of the pro-inflammatory immune response and oxidative stress are thought to play a key role in the breakdown of retinal cells. There is evidence that cannabidiol, with its known ability to combat both oxidative stress and inflammation, may be helpful in treating this condition.
In a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Pathology, rats with diabetes were given CBD and tested to determine the rate of retinal cell death. CBD treatment has been shown to significantly reduce oxidative stress and neurotoxicity and protect against retinal cell death and degradation of the Buda retinal barrier. It also included a decrease in tumor necrosis factor-α (TNFα), a substance known to be involved in the inflammatory response.
While conventional and stereotypical perceptions of cannabis users often suggest that cannabis may have negative effects on BMI, waist and diabetes, scientific evidence suggests otherwise. Overall, cannabis users are associated with a lower risk of diabetes and a lower risk of obesity, the leading cause of type 2 diabetes.