We know that cannabis gives us the munchies, but our sugar levels and weed may have a lot more in common than you think.
We note that the subject contained in this article represents illegal activity in certain jurisdictions. Whilst we do not condone any acts which are contrary to any such laws, we understand that readers in those jurisdictions which have decriminalised cannabis may find this article of interest.
Diabetes is a serious condition affecting 1.8 million Australians and 34.2 million in the U.S. Most people can be diagnosed with diabetes, and in many cases, diabetes can be prevented. But what does cannabis have to do with it?
Well, as the cannabis industry is growing, weed culture is emerging from the 'stoner stereotype,' and is increasingly being seen as a reliable treatment option for many conditions, in addition to becoming a hot product within the wellness industry. Research into weed is proving that the plant can provide benefits in cases of arthritis, Crohn's disease, and multiple sclerosis, and cannabis has been shown to improve our mood and reduce our stress.
Moreover, compounds like THC, CBD, and THCA are linked to reducing spasms, dilating blood vessels, and regulating blood sugar levels – all of which make weed close to a perfect fit for diabetes management.
In fact, some hypothesize that cannabis might be the key to preventing the condition altogether.
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a complex condition in which our body cannot uphold healthy levels of glucose (sugar). It is considered a common cause of blindness, kidney failure, and cardiovascular problems; it contributes to obesity and can cause neuropathy. Diabetes comes in three forms: Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes (occurring in 12-14% of pregnancies). For the purpose of this article, we will focusing on Type 1 and Type 2 forms.
Type 1: There is no link between Type 1 diabetes and lifestyle factors, however, it does have a genetic link. There is no known prevention strategy or cure and occurs in about ten percent of all diabetes cases.
It is an autoimmune condition that attacks cells in our pancreas (the large gland located behind the stomach), restricting it from producing insulin. Without enough insulin our bodies can't convert glucose into energy.
The onset of Type 1 diabetes can happen abruptly with symptoms such as excessive thirst and need to urinate, blurred vision, and unexplained weight loss. Other symptoms include constant fatigue, weakness, and dizziness.
Type 2: While Type 2 diabetes is also genetically linked, moderating lifestyle choices can prevent its onset. Type 2 is a progressive condition that accounts for around 85% of all cases.
The most effective way to prevent its onset is by moderating lifestyle choices through diet and exercise. Unlike Type 1 diabetes, our bodies can become resistant to normal insulin levels, then fail to produce enough insulin in the pancreas. This causes the pancreas to overcompensate, produce more insulin, and eventually wear the cells out over time.
Many patients miss the early symptoms of Type 2 diabetes and mistake them for signs of aging. Symptoms can include gradually putting on weight, headaches, and mood swings.
Treatment for diabetes is not pleasant. For Type 1 patients, insulin injections are required to replace the little insulin that's in the body. Injections can occur up to six times a day and are a lifelong requirement. Patients are also required to closely monitor blood glucose levels, take on regular exercise, and maintain a healthy diet as instructed by a health-care professional.
For Type 2 diabetes patients, symptoms can be managed by modifying lifestyle choices, primarily through maintaining a healthy diet and regular exercise. Type 2 diabetes is progressive so patients will likely be prescribed additional tablets to help regulate blood glucose levels. Type 2 patients may also be required to take additional insulin if needed.
Treatment plans are a necessity for all patients and require consistent monitoring. However, it's a tedious and uncomfortable process and may not relieve all symptoms.
This is where weed can come in handy for diabetes patients.
Is Weed the Cure?
Before getting into the details, it's important to understand how it can help.
When consumed, CBD and THC interact with our endocannabinoid system and its CB1 and CB2 receptors. When activated, these receptors can influence cognitive processing, appetite, and how we perceive pain. The CB2 receptors are found within our immune system and are known for reacting with CBD, in turn, activating its anti-inflammatory properties and influencing our pain perception.
The anti-inflammatory properties reduce bodily spasms, stabilize blood sugar, and have neuroprotective effects. It can also reduce the complications associated with diabetes such as arterial inflammation, neuropathy, improve circulation (by keeping blood vessels open), and lower blood pressure.
In 2015, one study found that levels of THC influenced perceived neuropathic pain; higher THC levels were associated with less pain felt by patients. A study in 2016 found that the compounds CBD and THCV acted as a "new therapeutic agent" for Type 2 patients. Cannabis not only lowers blood sugar levels but encourages insulin production. In 2017, another study also linked cannabis to lower resistance in insulin levels in both diabetic and non-diabetic individuals.
Can Weed Prevent Diabetes?
The link between Type 2 diabetes prevention and weed is attracting the attention of researchers and the medical community.
Several studies link compounds like THC, THCA, and CBD to lower BMI, lower prevalence of obesity, and smaller waist circumference; reducing the likelihood of developing Type 2 diabetes. Other compounds like THC-V is associated with decreasing blood sugar in humans as well as increasing insulin production.
In Type 1 patients, THC has been found to block autoimmune attacks to healthy cells, while CBD reduces pancreatic inflammation. The process might not stop Type 1 diabetes from occurring, but it can delay its onset. Secondary issues like stress and anxiety also cause blood glucose levels to fluctuate, making weed effective in managing a wide range of conditions associated with diabetes.
In Type 2 patients, cannabis use influences insulin resistance. Cannabis users were found to have 16% lower fasting insulin levels and 17% lower levels of insulin resistance than non-cannabis users. This means that people who consume cannabis are less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes because it helps regulate insulin at a healthy level.
More recently, a rare cannabis compound found in the Sativa plant, cannabimovone (CBM), could be the target for further research for an "anti-diabetic and insulin sensitising drug". The 2020 study found that CBM positively reacts with receptors responsible for glucose and lipid metabolism, and therefore able to "sensitise insulin cells".
This research shows a promising future in diabetes treatment and prevention.
Weeding the Way
Diabetes is not a qualifying condition for medical marijuana in the U.S. (except New York). However, the most common complications that stem from diabetes are; including conditions like obesity, glaucoma, muscle spasms, high blood pressure, and neuropathy.
CBD products are legal in the U.S. under the 2018 Farm Bill, while in the U.K., CBD oil has also been legal to purchase and consume since 2018. In Australia, however, cannabis is only legal for medicinal use.
Cannabis -especially CBD – can interfere with any current medication you're taking. If you're interested in considering cannabis into your current treatment plan, please speak to your health-care professional.
Research into the effect of cannabis use for treatment and prevention of diabetes is vastly growing. Diabetes is a complex condition, so if you have a genetic risk of developing diabetes, then it's important to be proactive with your diet and exercise. If you find yourself struggling with your current diabetes treatment plan, then perhaps seek out advice for additional options – weed might be your saving grace.
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