Regular users of marijuana may be less likely to develop diabetes due to marijuana’s ability to regulate insulin levels, a new study has found.
A multi-center research team, headed by a team at the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston, analyzed data from 4,657 patients that completed a drug use questionnaire in the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) gathered from 2005-2010. Of that sample, 579 were current marijuana users, while 1,975 had used marijuana in the past, and 2,103 had never used the drug.
The researchers compared several key factors, including insulin and glucose levels measured via blood samples taken after a nine hour fast. What they found could be of significant interest to Type 2 diabetes sufferers.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels or when the body is unable to use insulin effectively, known as insulin resistance. This stops the body’s cells absorbing glucose properly, which then builds up in the blood resulting in a variety of symptoms that can range from mild to severe, but are usually associated with extreme thirst, more frequent urination and fatigue.
Participants in the study who were frequent users of marijuana and had used the drug in the past month had 16% lower levels of fasting insulin and insulin resistance than those who had never used the drug. They also had higher levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), also known as the “good cholesterol” we are frequently told our diets need more of in order to stave off a variety of medical complaints, including heart disease.
Interestingly, those who had used marijuana at least once but not in the past 30 days had weaker positive associations, meaning that it is likely that marijuana’s ability to positively impact insulin levels is dependent on frequent use.
The study also found that those who used marijuana were more likely to have a smaller waist. While the prevailing idea is that pot gives people the munchies, and it is an observable fact that on average marijuana users have a higher calorific intake than non-users, there is evidence to suggest marijuana can, for a short time at least, act as an appetite suppressant. More importantly, though scientists aren’t yet quite sure why, two previous studies have shown marijuana use is linked with a lower body-mass index (BMI).
This all might sound like something baked up by cannabis supporters, but there is significant and mounting evidence of marijuana’s benefits, something the researchers were keen to point out in commenting on the study.
“Previous epidemiologic studies have found lower prevalence rates of obesity and diabetes mellitus in marijuana users compared to people who have never used marijuana, suggesting a relationship between cannabinoids and peripheral metabolic processes, but ours is the first study to investigate the relationship between marijuana use and fasting insulin, glucose, and insulin resistance,” lead investigator Murray A. Mittleman, MD, DrPH, is quoted as saying.
Joseph S. Alpert, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, is quoted as stressing that these findings point toward the need for further research and administrative action to help investigate marijuana’s potential medical benefits.
“These are indeed remarkable observations that are supported, as the authors note, by basic science experiments that came to similar conclusions. We desperately need a great deal more basic and clinical research into the short- and long-term effects of marijuana in a variety of clinical settings such as cancer, diabetes, and frailty of the elderly. I would like to call on the NIH and the DEA to collaborate in developing policies to implement solid scientific investigations that would lead to information assisting physicians in the proper use and prescription of THC in its synthetic or herbal form.”
Despite repeated calls for action, and a number of drug patents having been filed relating to the aforementioned cannabinoids, federal law still deems marijuana as illegal, something the Obama administration has continued to enforce.
Marijuana is currently classified as a Schedule I substance alongside heroin and LSD, meaning that clinical trials require DEA approval, something the DEA has been reluctant to allow without proof marijuana should be reclassified. Without medical trials, it is difficult for scientists to prove conclusively that marijuana has medical benefit and show that it can be reduced to a Schedule II drug, which would open it for wider testing and use. The circle continues.
Despite this, 19 states have legalized medical marijuana for its strongly supported ability to help manage the symptoms of multiple sclerosis and some cancers. There is even limited but “strong” evidence to show a marijuana derivative may impact cancer proliferation, dealing with the specific biochemical problems of anorexia and AIDS-associated symptoms.
Two states, Colorado and Washington, have legalized the recreational use of cannabis via state referenda in 2012.
The American Diabetes Association estimates that 25.8 million children and adults in the United States have diabetes, with just 18.8 million people diagnosed, 7 million people yet to be diagnosed, and up to 79 million people considered prediabetic. The total cost of diagnosing diabetes rose to a staggering $245 billion in 2012, while direct medical costs as a result of diabetes sit at around $176 billion.
Another study out this week suggests marijuana use may lower the risk of developing bladder cancer, findings in line with other studies that have suggested lower cancer risk.
Image credit: Thinkstock.
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