Cannabis Could be the Next Step in Treating Diabetes

Cannabis has been shown to alleviate many symptoms of type 1 and 2 diabetes and could potentially slow its progression.

Cannabis and DiabetesDiabetes has been on the rise worldwide for decades, with the number of diagnoses nearly quadrupling since the 1980s. Over 400 million people are currently living with diabetes, which can be life-threatening and has no known cure. Diabetes can be controlled with medication, but it tends to be an expensive, difficult, and intrusive process. The good (and perhaps surprising) news is that marijuana shows strong promise as a supplemental diabetes treatment. Studies have shown weed to have a powerful effect on the symptoms of diabetes. It’s also been suggested that weed could prevent the disease from worsening – or from taking hold in the first place.

Marijuana and diabetes

Diabetes develops when the body is unable to produce or adequately process insulin, a hormone that helps to transform glucose (sugar) from food into energy. When glucose can’t be properly transformed, it remains in the bloodstream. Chronically elevated blood glucose levels (hyperglycemia) are a symptom of diabetes that can lead to even more complications, including heart disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, vision problems, and stroke. Without proper treatment, diabetes can be fatal. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated diabetes as the 7th highest cause of death worldwide.

Certain cannabinoids (chemical compounds found in weed) may be uniquely qualified to help manage diabetes. The human body makes its own cannabinoids, which are vital to a wide range of functions, including regulation of mood, movement, sleep cycles, and sensitivity to pain. The pancreas, the organ that manufactures insulin, is strongly influenced by this “endocannabinoid system.” The pancreas has a high number of cannabinoid receptors, and may, therefore, be particularly responsive to the effects of marijuana. Several pharmaceutical companies are already working on cannabinoid-based drugs that could someday take the place of some traditional diabetes medications.

Marijuana’s favorable effect on diabetes comes as a surprise to many people, who associate cannabis use with overeating (the “munchies”) and lethargy or laziness. But a few studies have shown that regular cannabis users are actually less likely to be obese, and tend to have better levels of “good” cholesterol, even though they typically take in more calories than non-users. It appears that weed aids in the effective metabolization of carbohydrates. Additionally, current cannabis users showed better responsiveness to insulin than non-users did. Data collected by the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions-III (NESARC-III), conducted by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), found that marijuana users were less likely to have diabetes, though it could not definitively conclude that marijuana use was the cause of the lowered incidence.

Does marijuana help diabetes?

Research is still underway to determine exactly how marijuana can help in treating diabetes. However, what has been discovered so far suggests that weed may have positive effects on nearly every symptom and side effect of diabetes. Certain cannabinoids could help control blood glucose levels and increase the body’s responsiveness to insulin. Marijuana may even be able to help prevent diabetes, in part because it aids in preventing obesity, a major risk factor for the disease.

Marijuana’s effects on diabetes

Weed has been shown to provide significant relief from a wide range of diabetes symptoms. It’s important to note that the chemical makeup of different strains varies greatly. Any given strain will likely have stronger effects on some symptoms more than others. Marijuana can also alleviate many of the most common side effects or secondary conditions that rise up alongside diabetes.

Marijuana’s effects on diabetes and related conditions may include:

  • Relief of peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage in the arms and legs that is often quite painful)
  • Relief of GI (gastrointestinal) pain and muscle cramps
  • Improved stability of blood glucose levels
  • Decreased inflammation
  • Increased sensitivity to insulin
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Improved circulation
  • Alleviation of restless legs syndrome (RLS), which can make it difficult to fall asleep
  • Reduced stress and anxiety, which can exacerbate other diabetes symptoms

Smoking weed with diabetes

Smoking cannabis is not an ideal method of use for diabetics, as smoking anything (including weed) can worsen a few related conditions. Diabetics who smoke are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, eye diseases (including retinopathy), and to experience poor circulation, which can lead to many other issues. Regular smoking can also impact lung capacity, making exercise – which is often recommended as a diabetes-management measure – more challenging.

It’s unknown how frequently smoking needs to occur for its detrimental effects to outweigh the potential positives of cannabis. Though vaporizing or “vaping” is generally believed to be safer than smoking, it is still unknown if any of these smoking-related risks may also be increased by vaping cannabis. If a non-smokable delivery method is an option, it’s best to err on the side of caution. However, for immediate and occasional relief of RLS, smoking or vaporizing is likely to be most effective. If possible, it’s wise to consult a physician for help weighing these options.

Q: Can you smoke weed if you have diabetes?
A: While marijuana appears to help with many symptoms of diabetes, smoking it may increase the risk of conditions such as cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, nerve damage, eye diseases (including retinopathy), poor circulation, and reduced lung capacity. Smoking may, however, be the most effective delivery method for relief of diabetic-related RLS (restless legs syndrome).

Marijuana and type 1 diabetes

Roughly 5% of diabetics have type 1 diabetes (which used to be known as juvenile, childhood-onset, or insulin-dependent diabetes). Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, in which the body mistakenly attacks its own cells – in this case, the cells of the pancreas.

Since their pancreas is not able to adequately produce insulin, people with type 1 diabetes need to take daily injections of it. Adherence to a strict diet is also important with type 1 diabetes. There are no known outstanding risk factors or known preventative measures for the development of type 1 diabetes. Symptoms can take hold suddenly when this disease first develops and can include excessive urination (polyuria), constant thirst (polydipsia), constant hunger, weight loss, problems with vision, and fatigue.

It is not believed that marijuana can cure type 1 diabetes, though weed may have the potential to help suppress autoimmune attacks. Weed appears to reduce inflammation of pancreatic cells and increase sensitivity to insulin, which could reduce the amount of injected insulin needed. Stress and anxiety can contribute to unsafe fluctuations in blood glucose levels, and marijuana also helps to ease these. It is even possible that weed could prevent the onset of diabetes, or at least delay its progression.

Risk of using marijuana with type 1 diabetes

There is a possible link between marijuana use by type 1 diabetics and the risk of developing DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis.) DKA is a potentially life-threatening condition which develops when the body isn’t making enough insulin to process sugar, so it begins burning fat cells for energy. This can cause chemicals called ketones to build up in the bloodstream, making the blood more acidic, creating the potential risk of coma or death.

A study examining this association showed doubled rates of DKA in cannabis users, but marijuana could not be pinpointed as the cause. Most of these survey respondents had lower incomes and levels of education, which may have influenced the quality of healthcare they had access to, among other factors that were not controlled for. However, if you have type 1 diabetes and use marijuana, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of DKA. Since DKA can take only a few hours to set in, contact your doctor right away if you experience a sudden onset of any of the following: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and feelings of confusion.

Marijuana and type 2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is by far the most common variation of the disease, affecting over 90% of diabetics. People with type 2 diabetes do produce insulin, but often not enough of it. A condition called insulin resistance is usually present in type 2 diabetes. This means that the body is no longer as sensitive to insulin as it is supposed to be. Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes develop due to external factors, such as obesity, high-sugar diets, sedentary lifestyles, and genetic predisposition. Marijuana can alleviate chronic inflammation, which can lead to obesity and the development of insulin resistance. Weed may also be able to help in maintaining safe blood glucose levels, relief of diabetes-related pain, improvement of insulin sensitivity. These improvements could slow, or potentially stop, the onset of type 2 diabetes.

Symptoms of type 2 diabetes can include fatigue, excessive thirst, blurred vision, slowed healing of cuts or bruises, and tingling, pain or numbness in hands and feet (peripheral neuropathy). Some people with type 2 diabetes can get by without daily insulin injections, but prescription medication is still required to keep blood glucose levels out of the danger zone. Cannabis should be considered only as a supplemental treatment, at this time, not as a replacement for traditional diabetes medication.

Medical marijuana for diabetes

Diabetes is not currently a qualifying condition for medical marijuana prescriptions in Canada or any U.S. states. However, Arkansas, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New York, and Pennsylvania all consider peripheral neuropathy a qualifying condition. Several other states do list chronic pain as a qualifying condition but a physician’s approval is, of course, required. California, Oklahoma, and West Virginia currently leave the decision of whether or not to prescribe cannabis for any condition completely to physicians’ discretion. There are also a number of states where weed can be used recreationally by anyone over age 21. Products containing only the cannabinoid CBD are legal in all 50 states (provided they do not contain THC).

Q: Can you get medical marijuana for diabetes?
A: Diabetes is not a qualifying condition for medical marijuana at this time. However, peripheral neuropathy, a type of nerve damage that is directly caused by diabetes, does qualify in a few U.S. states.

CBD and diabetes

CBD (cannabidiol), has attracted a lot of medicinal interest in recent years. A cannabinoid without psychoactive side effects, CBD has been found to help with a wide variety of medical conditions and appears to also have multiple benefits for diabetics.

Does CBD help with diabetes?

The research done so far suggests that CBD may be highly effective against both types of diabetes and an impressive number of their related symptoms and conditions. It is not believed that CBD can cure diabetes, but it may be able to aid in reduced occurrence and severity of diabetes cases.

CBD and type 1 diabetes

Studies on mice have suggested that, in some cases, CBD could reduce the incidence of type 1 diabetes, or delay its onset. Another animal study showed CBD could counteract the autoimmune response associated with early stages of type 1 diabetes. CBD is effective at reducing the inflammation of pancreatic cells, and could also protect them from further deterioration. CBD also alleviates feelings of stress and anxiety, which can adversely affect blood glucose levels.

CBD and type 2 diabetes

CBD may be a powerful treatment of many symptoms related to type 2 diabetes, including:

  • Obesity – CBD’s anti-inflammatory qualities can help combat inflammation-related obesity, which has a direct effect on insulin sensitivity.
  • Diabetic cardiovascular dysfunction
  • Diabetic retinopathy – CBD’s anti-inflammatory effect has been shown to help with diabetic retinopathy, a condition characterized by inflammation of blood vessels in the eye. Left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to severe vision problems, including blindness.
  • Peripheral neuropathy – Lack of sufficient blood flow can cause nerve damage in the limbs, a condition known as peripheral neuropathy. Peripheral neuropathy can be very painful and may result in the loss of feeling and difficulty of using the hands and feet. The tissue in these damaged areas also becomes more susceptible to infection as it breaks down. Many studies have shown CBD to be highly effective against neuropathy. In some cases, the return of feeling and use of the extremities has accompanied CBD use.

CBD oil for diabetes

CBD oil may be the safest cannabis treatment option as it’s easy to control the dosage and eliminates the detrimental side effects associated with smoking. Using hemp oil for diabetes is an option even if you live in a state where weed is still illegal, as it contains no THC. CBD oil is typically ingested, but it also may be used topically for effective relief of neuropathic pain.

Recommended dosage of CBD for diabetes

There is no standard dosing formula for CBD, as everyone’s body processes it a little differently. If you are new to CBD, starting small is recommended. Talking to a medical professional and/or the CBD oil company is wise, if possible. The standard advice is to start out with one drop each day, taken under the tongue. After the first 3 weeks to one month, you can try upping it to 2 drops. It’s often more effective to spread out bigger doses throughout the day. Anywhere from 2 mg to a gram or more of CBD oil could be an effective dose, depending on what symptoms you’re treating and how your body reacts. There is usually a bit of trial and error involved in finding the correct dose. It’s far better to start slowly than to overdo it.

Cannabinoids have biphasic effects, meaning large and small doses may actually have opposite effects from one another. In general, larger amounts of weed are more sedative, and smaller doses may be more energizing. Higher doses of THC can cause paranoia and anxiety, while CBD may simply be less effective taken in excess.

CBD and diabetes testimonials

The internet is full of anecdotal success stories from those who have experienced dramatic improvements to their diabetes symptoms after starting CBD. Inspired by their own success, or that of their loved ones, these people are often eager to get this information out to other diabetics. For many, this means sharing their story in online diabetes forums, others have written books and even founded their own CBD companies.

Denny Magic’s story

CBD oil changed the life of an author and retired computer engineer, Denny Magic, who had suffered for years from diabetic nerve pain so severe that he couldn’t sleep at night. Magic wrote a book about his experience with CBD, in which he shared his inspiring story. Frustrated with his medical care providers, Magic gave CBD oil (with a bit of added THC powder) a try. He saw little improvement the first few days, but by the sixth day of using CBD, his nerve pain had vanished. Magic was able to completely stop using his ineffective and physically taxing pharmaceutical neuropathy medication. When he came in for his next lab test, his blood glucose levels had dropped significantly, and he was eventually able to reduce his dose of injected insulin by 45%, as well as regaining some of the feeling in his hands and feet that had been lost to neuropathy.

Q: Does CBD help with diabetes?
A: CBD appears to effectively improve insulin sensitivity, aid weight loss, and provide relief from peripheral neuropathy, diabetic retinopathy, and inflammation. It is possible that CBD could help to suppress the autoimmune response associated with type 1 diabetes, and could aid in reducing the incidence of type 2 diabetes.

THC and diabetes

Tetrahyrdacannabioil (THC), the psychoactive cannabinoid responsible for increased hunger (“the munchies”) and the “high” that can cause lethargy and impair decision-making, may seem more likely to aggravate than to help with diabetes. To the surprise of many researchers, THC appears to have overall positive effects on diabetes and its related symptoms.

  • Higher doses of THC have been shown to provide effective relief of pain from peripheral neuropathy.
  • A study on rats showed THC to have a potential protective effect against hyperglycemia (too much glucose in the blood) and hyperlipidemia (too much bad cholesterol, or LPL) in the blood.
  • THC appears to suppress the autoimmune aspect of type 1 diabetes.
  • THC can have a positive effect on stress and anxiety – although too much of it can cause anxiety or paranoia.

THCV and diabetes

THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin), is another cannabinoid with multiple potential benefits for diabetics. THCV is psychoactive in large doses but generally does not impart a noticeable high in small ones. THCV and CBD appear to work well synergistically and pharmaceutical companies are investigating how to apply this combination into a drug to treat diabetes. THCV has been shown to help with the following:

  • THCV could reduce the amount of injected insulin needed to treat type 1 diabetes, as it appears to increase the body’s sensitivity to insulin.
  • A study by the American Diabetes Association found that THCV appeared to help with glycemic control in cases of type 2 diabetes and recommended that this link be studied further.
  • Reduced anxiety
  • Reduced inflammation
  • Appetite suppression, which could assist in needed weight loss and curb cravings for high-sugar foods.

CBG and diabetes

Cannabigerol (CBG) is a cannabinoid that hasn’t yet been studied in depth. CBG naturally shows up in cannabis in small amounts, though breeders are experimenting with the creation of higher-CBG strains that could be very useful to diabetics.

  • CBG has been shown to have a neuroprotective effect on mice with Huntington’s Disease, a condition involving the degeneration of nerve cells in the brain. This suggests the possibility of CBG’s ability to help with nerve degeneration associated with diabetes, too.
  • CBG appears to reduce the effects of inflammation-related irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
  • CBG is a vasodilator (opens blood vessels) and may be especially effective at reducing pressure on the blood vessels inside the eye – a symptom characteristic of disorders such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. The eyes have a high number of endocannabinoid receptors, making them particularly responsive to the cannabinoids in marijuana.

CBC and diabetes

Another lesser-known cannabinoid, cannabichromene (CBC), has been shown to significantly reduce inflammation, a strong contributor to symptoms of diabetes. The effect on chronic inflammation appeared to be most potent when CBC and THC were used together. CBC also appears to be capable of blocking pain associated with inflammation.

A natural diabetes treatment at last?

The medical community hasn’t yet green-lighted cannabis for the treatment of diabetes, but so far, the evidence in favor is encouraging. If further research continues to show consistent results, the lives of many with diabetes may dramatically improve. Use of weed could reduce the amount of medications and injections required to keep diabetes under control, alleviate related pain and discomfort, and perhaps rein in the alarmingly high number of people developing the disease.

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