Marijuana And Diabetes
The presence of diabetes, unfortunately, plagues Americans, and, if left untreated, it could cause death. Even when treated, those with diabetes have a decreased quality of life and have more to worry about than their diabetes-free peers.
Estimates have identified nearly 250 million people in the world with diabetes. The prediction for the United States is that nearly 50 million residents will have it by the year 2050. This is a massive spike over previous predictions and sheds light on the magnitude of the problem.
But what does this have to do with marijuana? Marijuana has successfully been used for medical purposes in a variety of cases, but could it also help with diabetes? Let’s look into what the disease actually is and how marijuana could potentially help.
The basics of diabetes
Before we get into anything else, it’s important to understand the basics of this disease. Diabetes is all about insulin. The way a diabetes-free body works is that food gets taken in and then converted into blood sugar, called glucose. Your pancreas makes insulin when the levels of this glucose go up, and then glucose and insulin both are carried to all of your cells. Insulin works to “open” up the cells to allow the glucose to be absorbed. Since glucose is crucial to the proper functioning of any body, the insulin makes a huge difference.
When the blood glucose levels drop due to exercise, insulin levels also decrease, and energy comes from where some glucose had already been stored. This provides the necessary energy to the body during exercise.
There are two types of diabetes: type 1 and type 2. These both have to do with insulin and can lead to some major problems.
Type 1 diabetes
If you have this disease, your body has developed auto-immunity. That means that insulin has stopped being produced because the immune system is killing off the Beta cells in your pancreas. This slows the insulin production to a halt or at least to a very slow rate, making glucose starting to build up instead of being used by the cells. Generally, type 1 diabetes occurs before adulthood. Those with type 1 diabetes will need to have insulin therapy for their whole lives, along with a specific diet.
Type 2 diabetes
Type 2 diabetes can be the result of two separate scenarios. In the first scenario, the Beta cells of your pancreas are not able to produce enough insulin for the proper storage of excess glucose. In the second scenario, your bodily cells simply don’t react to the presence of insulin. Regardless of which one it is, the same effect takes place: sugars in your bloodstream begin building up with no outlet or use.
Most people with diabetes have type 2 diabetes. This often worsens over time and needs to be treated with medication (either pills or insulin), a specific diet, and the right amount of exercise.
Regardless of which type of diabetes we’re talking about, there are a number of associated symptoms that you can expect to see. They include:
- Frequent urination
- Frequent hunger
- Frequent thirst
- Vision impairment
- Bruises and wounds that heal slower than usual
- Weight loss (type 1)
- Hands and feet numb (type 2)
Other symptoms that can come up if diabetes is not being treated properly:
- Skin ailments and infection
- Cataracts and glaucoma from diabetic retinopathy
- Neuropathy from nerve damage
- Cardiovascular issues
Of course, these are not the only possible symptoms of diabetes. They are simply the main ones that are most commonly noticed. Many, many complications can come about if you have diabetes, and early treatment and diagnosis is a must. People who have diabetes have to live in a controlled way that allows very little room for error. Unfortunately, there is no cure for diabetes and no way to reverse the damaging effects that come with it.
Medical marijuana and diabetes
Medical marijuana is becoming more and more widespread and accepted by the general population. Already half of the American states have legalized medical marijuana, and studies into the drug as a medicine are taking off, providing us with more information every day on how helpful it can be for a variety of diseases.
Of course, it is still in the early stages of much of the research, meaning we have much to learn. This is especially the case for metabolic processes and how they interact with marijuana. Any information regarding diabetes and marijuana is only in the early stages — but still, it’s clear that there is some potential there.
What we know so far
Unfortunately, we are so far unable to do proper research on people with diabetes, meaning all of the research needs to be taken with the understanding that it has been done on animals rather than people. These animal studies have already shown us some of the potential uses for marijuana when it comes to diabetes and the various damaging effects of diabetes. One of these is neuropathy, which animal studies have shown marijuana to help with — as well as some of the cardiovascular complications.
There is one thing we already know about marijuana: it gives users quite an appetite. That being said, it doesn’t seem to increase the BMI of the user (despite the fact that they are taking in more calories when they have the “munchies”), which remains a bit of a mystery. This is a good example of our lack of understanding when it comes to marijuana’s effect on the metabolic processes.
One study was conducted to see how marijuana affects glucose and insulin. They did see that regular marijuana users had a lower rate of diabetes than non-users, as well as lower levels of insulin resistance and fasting insulin. They were generally slimmer (measured via waist circumference) than people who don’t use marijuana, and had more “good cholesterol” (high-density lipoprotein cholesterol).
Studies of mice have been showing that smoking marijuana casually is perhaps less beneficial than the natural derivatives of the marijuana plant in general. Diabetic mice were given cannabidiol (CBD), which is a cannabinoid that, unlike THC, has no psychoactive effects. It was found that this delayed the onset of type 1 diabetes, and CBD potentially may have some anti-autoimmune properties that could be useful in type 2 diabetes as well.
The problem with the treatment of diabetes (in ways other than marijuana) is that often immunosuppressive drugs are used, and these can lead to majorly increased risks for the diabetic patient. Suppressing the immune system altogether is generally a risky idea, as we need our immune system for everyday survival.
Even though CBD also targets the suppression of the immune system, it doesn’t have the same adverse effect as other drugs — the immune system responds protectively via immunomodulation. This means that, instead of the immune system causing damage, it would respond by protection (which is a good thing). This allows the Beta cells in the pancreas to remain safe from being destroyed, meaning insulin would continue to be properly formed. This response would continue in this way even once the patient stops using marijuana-based medicines, making it a potential long-term solution.
Diabetic neuropathy is one of the worst symptoms that can come with having diabetes. Approximately a fifth of people with diabetes will develop neuropathy, which is essentially the dysfunction of the nerves. It can be devastatingly difficult to manage, and can cause major pain in patients.
Some people try treating their neuropathy with opioids or anticonvulsants, although those achieve no greater than a 50% successful treatment in reducing pain — and of course, those drugs also come with amyriad of negative side effects.
This is where marijuana might come into play. Everyone has cannabinoid receptors in their bodies, known as CB1 and CB2. These receptors are responsible for pain modulation. CB1 is closely linked to the nervous system, while CB2 is linked to the immune system. CBD, one kind of cannabinoid found in marijuana, can be an effective way to treat pain that comes from neuropathy.
In mice studies, eCBD (found in marijuana) that was given to mice with pancreatic impairment was found to help restore the pain perception and mechanism. Although diabetes destroys liver tissue, this study found that the eCBD treated mice reversed this damage.
People with diabetes often have defective clot dissolution and thrombosis, which can cause macrovascular disease. This comes from the insulin resistance, of course, and potentially could be helped with extracts of marijuana.
In a study of obese rates (who have a far slower blood clot time than lean rates), blood samples were taken and analyzed after they were given the cannabis extract. CBD alone didn’t do it, but THC and CBD in combination helped inhibit these effects. Both the obese and the lean rats had better readings than before they were given the cannabis extract with CBD and THC.
What does this all mean?
These are just preliminary studies, of course, but this could have tremendous implications for the use of marijuana in treating the symptoms of diabetes. It has been used around the world already for such means (along with other symptoms and ailments), so now the science is coming into play to show us exactly how that might be done.
Considering the treatment all the other ailments that marijuana has shown to be effective, it is really no surprise that it might be useful in the future of treating diabetes as well. This could open the door to an endless number of possibilities for the medical (and marijuana) world.
Written by Robert Bergman, founder of ilovegrowingmarijuana.com. Robert has been passionately exploring and experimenting with cannabis seeds for over 20 years and shares these insights to help prospective growers get the most out of their plants. On top of that, Robert engages to fully liberate marijuana by offering his views in the political, social, market and industry area of our beloved plant.