Recently, recreational marijuana has been making headline news, but research into medical cannabis is continuing to advance at a rapid pace. According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, it approved the first ever cannabis-derived drug for the treatment of epilepsy early last year, marking this an unprecedented moment in the legitimization of cannabinoids as a viable option for treating disease.
This comes despite the fact that cannabis advocates have for decades been promoting its potential for therapeutic use, but among the most promising, and urgent, areas of study is unquestionably its effect on diabetes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claims more than 100 million U.S. adults have diabetes or prediabetes, all needing relief from both its symptoms and high treatment costs.
Understanding the Diabetes Epidemic
Diabetes is now among the most widespread, difficult to treat diseases in modern times. Across the world, approximately 8.5 percent of people have it, almost double from 1980. Besides causing many premature deaths, the World Health Organization states that diabetes is also a “major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, and lower limb amputation.”
Diabetics are not the only ones to suffer from this disease. It has profound effects on society. Both individuals and the U.S. healthcare system are staggering under the costs of treating it. The American Diabetes Association put the cost of treatment at $327 billion in 2017, of which $90 billion was the direct result of lost productivity. Currently, diabetes is swallowing 1 in 4 dollars spent on healthcare.
Treating Diabetes with Cannabis
Science does not yet fully understand what causes both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, but it does know exactly how it affects the human body. Both are the result of the body’s inability to either produce or regulate insulin, a pancreatic hormone that processes sugar. Results are catastrophic, with people eventually supplementing their insulin or paying for very costly insulin replacement therapy.
For sufferers, managing levels of glucose in the blood is essential to minimizing symptoms and avoiding the very worst outcomes, which include limb amputations, kidney damage, even loss of vision. Researchers studying the effects of cannabis on diabetes consistently find very promising results. However, testing is still necessary to identify any definitive correlations between the two.
Studies already conducted fall into one of two categories: Treatment or prevention. There are inconclusive correlations between cannabis and preventing diabetes, but BMJ Journals published a study in 2012 showing marijuana users with a 58 percent smaller risk of developing this disease. The Journal of Diabetes Research published a study in 2016 finding no correlation between diabetes and pot use.
However, as The Diabetes Council explains well, any correlation that exists between cannabis and treating Type 1, Type 2, and prediabetes may lie in the anti-inflammatory properties of certain cannabinoids, enabling treatment in other ways. Research shows pot stabilizing blood sugars, reducing blood pressure, preventing nerve inflammation, opening blood vessels, and maximizing circulation.
Studies also find cannabinoids likely more effective than current medications available for diabetes. For example, The Diabetes Council finds cannabidiol, or CBD, able to prevent Type 1 diabetes, even delay its onset. Additionally, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, effectively suppresses the autoimmune response that diabetes causes, ultimately lowering the quantity of insulin required during treatment.
Type 2 diabetics using CBD can rebalance their endocannabinoid system, an imbalance of which makes it difficult to shed weight, which is an absolute necessity for treating Type 2. Furthermore, The Diabetes Council shows CBD helping to lower resistance to insulin, which is what causes progression of the disease and most of its symptoms.
Even broader, the anti-inflammatory capabilities of cannabis might prove crucial in treating secondary symptoms of diabetes, which include eye problems, severe pain, even heart issues. According to the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis, extensive research found cannabinoids having a myriad of other benefits on secondary symptoms. These include:
- Neuroprotective properties that lower nerve pain
- Antispasmodic properties that relieve gastrointestinal cramps and pain
- Vasodilator properties that boost blood circulation
- Sedating properties that reduce restless leg syndrome and improve sleep