It begins with that original 2005 research paper that we highlighted from the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC), which purported that cannabis can have the following benefits for PWDs (people with diabetes):
- stabilizing blood sugars (confirmed via “a large body of anecdotal evidence building among diabetes sufferers”)
- anti-inflammatory action that may help quell some of the arterial inflammation common in diabetes
- “neuroprotective” effects that help thwart inflammation of nerves and reduce the pain of neuropathy by activating receptors in the body and brain
- “anti-spasmodic agents” help relieve muscle cramps and the pain of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders
- acts as a “vasodilator” to help keep blood vessels open and improve circulation
- contributes to lower blood pressure over time, which is vital for diabetics
- substituting cannabis butter and oil in foods “benefits cardiac and arterial health in general”
- it can also be used to make topical creams to relieve neuropathic pain and tingling in hands and feet
- helps calm diabetic “restless leg syndrome” (RLS), so the patient can sleep better: “it is recommended that patients use a vaporizer or smoked cannabis to aid in falling asleep”
Evidence for all of this still stands, and has in fact been corroborated and built upon in the past decade.
Why is there so much talk about marijuana as medicine, that can actually be good for you? The endogenous cannabinoid system, named after the plant that led to its discovery, which is “perhaps the most important physiologic system involved in establishing and maintaining human health,” according to NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, based in Washington DC.
“Endocannabinoids and their receptors are found throughout the body: in the brain, organs, connective tissues, glands, and immune cells. In each tissue, the cannabinoid system performs different tasks, but the goal is always the same: homeostasis, the maintenance of a stable internal environment despite fluctuations in the external environment… Cannabinoids promote homeostasis at every level of biological life, from the sub-cellular, to the organism, and perhaps to the community and beyond.”
Therefore NORML and other marijuana advocates and supporters “…believe that small, regular doses of cannabis might act as a tonic to our most central physiologic healing system.”
Research on Diabetes & Cannabis Says…
While there’s some conflicting evidence on marijuana’s role in delaying the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, research shows it is beneficial indeed for those already diagnosed with either type 1 or 2, and especially for those who suffer complications.
A milestone study published in the American Journal of Medicine in 2013 concluded:
- cannabis compounds may help control blood sugar
- marijuana users are less likely to be obese, and have lower body mass index (BMI) measurements — despite the fact that they seemed to take in more calories
- pot smokers also had higher levels of “good cholesterol” and smaller waistlines
“The most important finding is that current users of marijuana appeared to have better carbohydrate metabolism than non-users. Their fasting insulin levels were lower, and they appeared to be less resistant to the insulin produced by their body to maintain a normal blood-sugar level,” Murray Mittleman, associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the lead researcher told TIME magazine.
In 2014, a “summary of the promising epidemiological evidence” on marijuana in the management of diabetes published in the Natural Medicine Journal also concluded that in thousands of subjects, past and current marijuana use was associated with lower levels of fasting insulin, blood glucose, insulin resistance, BMI, and waist circumference.
And in 2015, Israeli researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem released a study showing that the anti-inflammatory properties of cannabidiol (CBD), a compound found in cannabis, could effectively be used to treat different illnesses including type 2 diabetes.
There’s also compelling scientific evidence that cannabis can aid in treating diabetes complications, for example eye disease; cannabis reduces the intraocular pressure (fluid pressure in the eye) considerably in people with glaucoma, which is caused by conditions that severely restrict blood flow to the eye, like diabetic retinopathy.
How Can Marijuana Help You?
So let’s say you were using marijuana, or wanted to try it. What would the effect be on your diabetes?
A number of PWDs report that with regular use, they see lower blood sugar levels and reduced A1c results over time. The existing scientific evidence shows that marijuana has an effect on improving insulin resistance — helpful for people type 2 diabetes, but generally not for type 1s. For them, there’s little more than anecdotal evidence to go on.
However, as mentioned, there is a whole body of evidence showing that marijuana is effective in treating eye disorders, chronic pain, sleep disorders, and a number of other ailments often associated with diabetes. So if you are living with one or more complications of diabetes, marijuana may very well ease your pain or slow the progression of the disorder you’re living with.
The area of mental health is a big one for marijuana, as it has been shown to effectively treat everything from clinical depression to post-traumatic stress disorder. Why is this? One answer may come from a study published in February 2015, showing that marijuana use in animals helped restore brain levels of endocannabinoids — which affect emotion and behavior, and have been linked to reduced feelings of pain and anxiety, and increased feelings of well-being.
Of course, some people with depression will not do well on marijuana, as it can also increase feelings of anxiety and paranoia in some people.
The biggest risk of marijuana use with diabetes is probably hypoglycemia; there are a lot of concerns that PWDs’ glucose levels will drop, unnoticed by the patient until they are in dangerous territory.
So in other words: marijuana *could* help you reduce blood glucose levels, feel better, more relaxed and pain-free, but you also need to be careful.