Can Medical Marijuana be used to treat Diabetes? - Research Review

Can Medical Marijuana be used to treat Diabetes? – Research Review

Although there are numerous cases of research into the use and characteristics of marijuana and its relation to metabolic diseases, this post will review the current research and give an idea of where we stand in relation to diabetes and the use of marijuana. 

Over the past 40 years, the number of diabetics worldwide has quadrupled following population growth. Currently 8.5% of the world’s population have a form of diabetes . Diabetes comes in different forms and can occur at any time, though it is more likely to occur if there is a family history of diabetes due to its links with genetics. In type one diabetics (T1D) the immune system selectively destroys the pancreases insulin producing β (beta) cells. Due to the lack of insulin, blood glucose can no longer be regulated and insulin must be externally administered. There are many types of treatment for T1D ranging from injections to insulin pumps and patches, alongside regular blood glucose monitoring.

“Continuous research is being done into new treatments to improve blood glucose control.

It is important to underline the difference between “Medical Marijuana” and “street cannabis”. Mechoulam, for example, (2012) explains that data collected from users of non-medical Marijuana is unreliable due to the different levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) in each sample; saying that the majority of illegally sold marijuana contains no CBD at all.

Research has shown CBD to be a compound with medicinal value (Mechoulam, R. (2012)): it helps reduce anxiety and it is a potent anti-inflammatory compound (Zuardi AW (1982)). CBD has also been shown to have anti-autoimmune diabetes effects (in a mouse model) (Mechoulam, R. (2012) via Mechoulam R et al (2007)).

“…However, some studies, albeit animal-based ones, in recent years have highlighted a number of potential health benefits of cannabis for diabetics.

A research paper published by the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC) suggested that cannabis can help:

~ Stabilise blood sugars – a large body of anecdotal evidence is building among diabetics to support this.
~ Suppress some of the arterial inflammation commonly experienced by diabetics, which can lead to cardiovascular disease
~ Prevent nerve inflammation and ease the pain of neuropathy – the most common complication of diabetes – by stimulating receptors in the body and brain.
~ Lower blood pressure over time, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and other diabetes complications
~ Keep blood vessels open and improve circulation.
~ Relieve muscle cramps and the pain of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
~ Be used to make topical creams to relieve neuropathic pain and tingling in hands and feet

Cannabis compounds have also been shown to reduce intra-ocular pressure (the fluid pressure within the eye) considerably in people with glaucoma – a type of eye disease that is caused by conditions that severely restrict blood flow to the eye, such as severe diabetic retinopathy.”

An interesting journal by Rajavashisth T, et al, (2012) compares the difference between marijuana users and non-marijuana users between 1988-1994 in relation to diabetes prevalence. Rajavashisth findings showed evidence of decreased prevalence of chances of diabetes in marijuana users, though they could not pin point the exact reason for their results.

More recently a study published in 2015 by  Kim TW et al, looked at the effects different drugs had on diabetics blood pressure (BP) and blood glucose (BG). There overall results showed the difficulties of measuring variables in their data: the data showed that the use of drugs gave rise to inadequate BG due to lack of personal care but of the drugs monitored, Marijuana, had little to no impact on BG, whereas for example, cocaine showed a decline in diabetes control. Both studies stated a need for further research in order to truly grasp the effects on chronic medical conditions as they were also unable to show clear data in regards to the direct effects on diabetes.

In Conclusion

There is currently not enough conclusive research to show if medical marijuana has a medicinal benefit in relation to diabetes. For this reason, further research will need to be carried out before any conclusion can be made.

References and further Reading

Kim, T. W., Samet, J. H., Cheng, D. M., Bernstein, J., Wang, N., German, J., & Saitz, R. (2015). The spectrum of unhealthy drug use and quality of care for hypertension and diabetes: a longitudinal cohort study. BMJ Open, 5(12), e008508. [accessed on 12th July 2016]

Mechoulam R. (2012) Cannabis–a valuable drug that deserves better treatment. Mayo Clin Proc. 2012;87(2):107–109. DOI: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2011.12.002. [accessed on 13th July 2016]

Mechoulam R., Peters M., Murillo-Rodriguez E., Hanus L.O. (2007) Cannabidiol—recent advances. Chem Biodivers. 2007;4(8):1678–1692. DOI: 10.1002/cbdv.200790147 [PubMed] [accessed on 13th July 2016]

Rajavashisth T B, Shaheen M, Norris K C, Pan D, Sinha S K, Ortega J, Friedman T C, (2012) Diabetes and endocrinology – Research:Decreased prevalence of diabetes in marijuana users: cross-sectional data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III, BMJ Open 2012;2:1 e000494 DOI:10.1136/bmjopen-2011-000494 [Full text] [accessed on 12th July 2016]

World health organization, Diabetes fact sheet (reviewed 2016) [accessed on 12th July 2016]

Zuardi AW, Shirakawa I, Finkelfarb E, Karniol IG, (1982) Action of cannabidiol on the anxiety and other effects produced by delta 9-THC in normal subjects.  PMID: 6285406. [accessed on 14th July 2016]