Diabetes and Cannabis

Cannabis has shown promise in treating symptoms associated with both type 1 and type diabetes and may slow the progression of the disease. In 2017, 7.3% of Canadians aged 12 and older ( roughly 2.3 million people) reported being diagnosed with diabetes. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated diabetes as the 7th highest cause of death worldwide. Before we get into talking about treating diabetes we need to define what diabetes is. 

Description of Diabetes

Diabetes is a disease in which a person’s body either can’t produce insulin or can’t use it properly. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas. The role of insulin is to regulate the amount of glucose (sugar) in the blood. 

A person’s blood sugar must be carefully regulated to ensure that the body functions properly. Too much blood sugar can cause damage to organs, blood vessels, and nerves. The body also needs insulin in order to use sugar for energy.

Types of diabetes 

There are two main types of diabetes, as well as prediabetes. Type 2 is the most common – approximately 90% of people with diabetes have type 2. 

Diabetes Type 1 Diabetes Type 2 Prediabetes 
Description It’s an autoimmune disease also known as insulin-dependent diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes aren’t able to produce their own insulin and as a result, can’t regulate their blood sugar because their body is attacking the pancreas.  People can’t properly use the insulin made by their bodies, or their bodies aren’t able to produce enough insulin. When a person has high blood sugar but is not yet able to be diagnosed with diabetes.
Development It generally develops in childhood or adolescence, but can also develop in adulthood. It’s most commonly developed in adulthood. Almost 6 million Canadians have prediabetes, but not every with prediabetes is eventually diagnosed with diabetes.
Traditional Treatment People with type 1 need to inject insulin or use an insulin pump to ensure their bodies have the right amount of insulin.  Monitoring and managing blood sugar levels through healthy eating and regular exercise alone, but may also require medications or insulin therapy (source). Treatment focuses on weight loss through a healthy diet and exercise as well as getting cholesterol under control. Doctors also recommend quitting smoking. 

Symptoms

Prediabetes symptoms are roughly the same as the signs of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The most common signs and symptoms of diabetes are:

  • unusual thirst
  • frequent urination
  • weight change (gain or loss)
  • extreme fatigue or lack of energy
  • blurred vision
  • frequent or recurring infections
  • cuts and bruises that are slow to heal
  • tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
  • trouble getting or maintaining an erection

However, some people may not notice any symptoms (source). 

Treating Diabetes with Cannabis 

Preliminary evidence suggests that cannabis can help to treat the symptoms associated with diabetes as well as delay its onset. According to The Diabetes Council, the correlation between cannabis and the treatment of diabetes may lie in the anti-inflammatory capabilities of cannabinoids. 

The Endocannabinoid System and the Pancreas

The endocannabinoid system (ECS) is responsible for maintaining homeostasis in the body and is involved in many important functions including in the pancreas where problems arise for those with diabetes. 

The ECS plays a role in the regulation of endocrine secretion in the pancreas. It regulates not only the central and peripheral mechanisms of food intake but lipids synthesis and turnover in the liver and adipose tissue as well as glucose metabolism in muscle cells.

What the research says 

Research on the use of cannabis, particularly CBD, for the prevention of diabetes is still in the very early stages and has, at this point, shown some conflicting results. A 2008 study on mice demonstrated the mice pretreated with CBD were less likely to develop diabetes than those who weren’t. 

That being said evidence to support the use of cannabis for managing diabetes symptoms is more robust. Research suggests that cannabis users are better able to metabolize carbohydrates (i.e. glucose) as a result of how cannabinoids interact with insulin. This research found that cannabis users tend to have lower levels of fasting insulin and they appeared to be less resistant to the insulin produced by their body to maintain normal blood sugar levels.

  • A 2007 study specifically looked at inflammation triggered by high glucose levels. Researchers found that CBD had positive effects on several markers of inflammation. This suggests CBD may be helpful in offsetting the damage diabetes can inflict on the walls of blood vessels.
  • A small 2016 study found CBD use had little impact on “good” cholesterol levels and several other markers, such as insulin sensitivity and appetite, on people with type 2 diabetes.
  • A 2010 preclinical study noted that not only did CBD help to reduce inflammation in a diabetic population of mice, but it also helped to lower the likelihood of cardiovascular disorders that can occur among diabetics.
  •  A 2019 study found that the neuroprotective effects of CBD were instrumental in preventing inflammation and improving memory function in the brains of middle-aged diabetic rats.

More research is necessary to completely understand the mechanisms by which cannabis affects symptoms associated with diabetes.

What Experts Say

Doctors would like to see more clinical data to support the use of CBD for treating diabetes before recommending it. Although most doctors do not support the use of CBD (or cannabis) as a primary treatment they do acknowledge CBDs effectiveness for helping to manage certain symptoms. Therefore, most doctors recommend using CBD as a supplementary treatment for symptoms such as pain and inflammation.

Dr. Roberta DeLuca, a physician and educator at CBDbiocare, notes that the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill should usher in a wave of new studies into CBD and diabetes that will provide more conclusive insights.

Have you used cannabis to treat symptoms associated with diabetes? If you have, we want to hear from you! Let us know your experience in the comments, tag us in your story on social media, or send us an email to support@missenvy.ca

The future of Cannabis for treating Diabetes

GW Pharmaceuticals, the pharmaceutical company that has developed cannabis drugs for epilepsy and multiple sclerosis, is working on a cannabis-derived drug for treating diabetes. Their specific focus in on creating a drug that will eliminate the use of insulin injections with the use of CBD and THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin-9). 

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