Marijuana and Diabetes: Benefits, Disadvantages, and Legality

Marijuana has been used medicinally for thousands of years, although many people use it as a recreational drug too. Research now indicates marijuana may have medicinal properties that can provide benefits for diabetes, as well as other health conditions.

After alcohol, marijuana (also known as cannabis) is the most commonly used drug in the world. The United Nations World Drug Report 2016 estimate there are 182.5 million users globally.

This article explores the medicinal properties of marijuana and how its use might benefit people with diabetes. It also examines the potential downsides of using marijuana for people who have diabetes and what the legal status of the drug is.

Medicinal properties of marijuana

Marijuana on a table
Cannabinoids found in marijuana may affect memory, mood, pain, and coordination.

Compounds in marijuana are believed to be responsible for the health benefits associated with the plant. These are called cannabinoids.

Cannabinoids interact with receptors found in the central nervous system of the body. This can affect a number of processes such as:

  • mood
  • pain
  • memory
  • coordination
  • appetite

Of all the cannabinoids in marijuana, THC and cannabidiol (CBD) are the most commonly studied.

THC is the main psychoactive component in cannabis, producing the “high” associated with the drug. CBD is not considered psychoactive but has a number of medicinal uses. As such, it is of interest to those considering marijuana for medical use.

Medical marijuana and synthetic drugs

The term “medical marijuana” means the use of the whole, unprocessed cannabis plant (or extracts from it) to treat certain health conditions.

It should be noted that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved marijuana as a safe and effective drug for any condition. The FDA has, however, approved the following medications containing synthetic versions of THC:

  • dronabinol (Marinol)
  • nabilone (Cesamet)

Clinical trials are also being conducted on CBD-containing drugs, some of which are already approved in Europe.

Benefits of marijuana for diabetes

Several studies have highlighted a number of benefits of marijuana use for those with diabetes.

A 2005 paper, published by the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC), suggests that marijuana may be used by people with diabetes to:

  • stabilize blood sugar levels
  • lower arterial inflammation
  • reduce neuropathic pain, the most common complication of diabetes
  • lower blood pressure over time
  • improve circulation
  • relieve muscle cramps
  • reduce gastrointestinal pain and cramping

This research has been built upon in more recent years, and other benefits have been associated with marijuana use, including:

Smaller waist size and less risk of obesity

A person may develop type 2 diabetes if they are overweight and studies suggest marijuana use may be associated with smaller waist size.

Being overweight or obese is one of the biggest risk factors in the development of type 2 diabetes. According to Diabetes UK, obesity may account for 80 to 85 percent of the risk of developing the condition.

Studies show that marijuana may help reduce the risk of diabetes.

For example, researchers in a 2013 study of 4657 people, including 579 current marijuana users and 1975 past users, found that marijuana use was associated with a smaller waist size. On average, regular users had waists that were 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) slimmer than people who had smoked marijuana in the past, or those who never did.

This backs up previous research, which indicates that obesity occurs less often among cannabis users than in non-users.

Increased insulin sensitivity

Being able to use insulin effectively is vital for health. However, those with type 2 diabetes are less sensitive (more resistant) to the effects of insulin in the body.

Research has shown that marijuana users may have increased insulin sensitivity. In the study of 4657 people mentioned above, it was found that the fasting insulin levels of users were 16 percent lower than former users and non-users. Their levels of insulin resistance were also 17 percent lower.

A 2015 study of people with non-insulin-treated type 2 diabetes indicates that a form of THC:

  • significantly decreased fasting blood glucose
  • improved the production of insulin
  • raised levels of adiponectin ( a protein that regulates blood sugar)

Anti-inflammatory properties

Inflammation is believed to play a role in the development of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

Some 2015 research, suggests that the anti-inflammatory properties of CBD can treat the inflammation contributing to diabetes, and associated complications.

Protection against retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of vision loss for those with diabetes. According to the National Eye Institute, it is also the most common cause of blindness for adults of working age.

The results of some research carried out on animals suggests that 1 to 4 weeks of CBD treatment provided ‘significant protection’ from diabetic retinopathy.

Neuropathy treatment

Diabetic neuropathy is a common complication of diabetes. It is a form of nerve damage that occurs most often in the legs and feet, but also in other parts of the body. Neuropathy can be extremely painful, and even fatal in some cases.

A 2015 study on people with neuropathic foot pain suggests that inhaling cannabis can provide relief from diabetic neuropathic pain for several hours. Researchers found that the higher the dose of THC administered, the greater the pain relief.

Disadvantages of marijuana for diabetes

Marijuana use for people with diabetes may have several benefits but there are also disadvantages. These include hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and a number of other considerations.

High blood sugar

The main disadvantage of using cannabis for diabetes is related to an increased appetite. This is often experienced by users and is commonly known as “the munchies”. This may lead people to crave and eat large amounts of carbohydrates.

This can be an issue for those with diabetes as carbohydrates cause blood sugar to rise rapidly. Severely elevated blood sugar levels may result in a medical emergency.

Low blood sugar

Abnormally low blood sugar levels can also be dangerous for those with diabetes.

Low sugar levels are caused by too much insulin and not enough glucose in the blood. Symptoms include:

  • shaking
  • sweating
  • rapid heartbeat
  • confusion

There are some concerns that marijuana users may not notice their blood sugar levels have dropped when intoxicated. It is also a worry that they may attribute symptoms of low blood sugar to the drug use.

Other disadvantages and risks of marijuana use

Side effects of marijuana use may include an increased heart rate, dizziness, and impaired concentration.

Other potential undesirable side effects of marijuana use include:

  • addiction (may occur in 9 percent of adults who use marijuana)
  • increased heart rate
  • interactions with prescription or over-the-counter medications
  • breathing issues
  • dizziness
  • withdrawal symptoms
  • delayed reaction times
  • impaired concentration and memory

Topical CBD hemp oil and diabetes

The AAMC advises the use of topical marijuana treatments made with aloe vera or other oils. People can apply these directly to their hands and feet to reduce the pain and tingling sensations associated with diabetic neuropathy.

A variety of CBD and hemp oils, lotions, and balms are available to buy. As they are generally made with CBD, rather than THC, these products are non-psychoactive.

Legal status

In the United States, marijuana is illegal under federal law. However, as of April 2017, 28 states have passed laws to decriminalize its use for specific medical conditions. A doctor’s prescription is required in these cases.

Recreational marijuana use is legal without a prescription in the following eight states, plus Washington D.C.:

  • Alaska
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • Oregon
  • Washington
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CBD Oil: Uses, Health Benefits

Cannabidiol oil is used for health purposes, but it is controversial. There is some confusion about what it is, and its effect on the human body.

Cannabidiol (CBD) may have some health benefits, but there may also be some risks.

What is CBD oil?

CBD is the name of a compound found in the cannabis plant. It is one of the numerous compounds found in the plant that is called cannabinoids. Researchers have been looking at the potential therapeutic uses of CBD.

Oils that contain concentrations of CBD are known as CBD oil, but the concentration and uses of different oils vary.

Is CBD marijuana?

Cannabis plant
CBD oil is a cannabinoid derived from the cannabis plant.

Until recently, the most well-known compound in cannabis was delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This is the most active ingredient in marijuana.

Marijuana contains both THC and CBD, but the compounds have different effects.

THC is well-known for the mind-altering “high” it produces when broken down by heat and introduced to the body, such as when smoking the plant or cooking it into foods.

CBD is not psychoactive. This means that it does not change the state of mind of the person who uses it. However, it does appear to produce significant changes in the body, and it may have medical benefits.

Most of the CBD used medicinally is found in the least processed form of the cannabis plant, known as hemp.

Hemp and marijuana come from the same plant, cannabis Sativa, but they are very different.

Over the years, marijuana farmers have selectively bred their plants to be very high in THC and other compounds that interested them, either for a smell or an effect they had on the plant’s flowers.

On the other hand, hemp farmers have not tended to modify the plant. It is these hemp plants that are used to create CBD oil.

How CBD works

All cannabinoids, including CBD, attach themselves to certain receptors in the body to produce their effects.

The human body produces certain cannabinoids on its own. It has two receptors for cannabinoids, called CB1 receptors and CB2 receptors.

CB1 receptors are found all over the body, but many of them are in the brain.

The CB1 receptors in the brain deal with coordination and movement, pain, emotions, and mood, thinking, appetite, and memories, among others. THC attaches to these receptors.

CB2 receptors are more common in the immune system. They have an effect on inflammation and pain.

It used to be thought that CBD acts on these CB2 receptors, but it appears now that CBD does not act on either receptor directly. Instead, it seems to influence the body to use more of its own cannabinoids.

Potential health benefits

Because of the way that CBD acts in the body, it has many potential uses. CBD oil is taken orally, rubbed on the skin, and sometimes inhaled through vapor or used intravenously to produce its effects.

Natural pain relief or anti-inflammatory properties

People commonly use prescription or over-the-counter drugs to relieve pain and stiffness, including chronic pain.

Some people feel that CBD offers a more natural way to lower pain. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Medicine found that CBD significantly reduced chronic inflammation and pain in some mice and rats.

The researchers suggest that the non-psychoactive compounds in marijuana, such as CBD, could be a new treatment for chronic pain.

CBD is already in use for some conditions that cause chronic pain, such as multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.

Quitting smoking and drug withdrawals

There is some promising evidence that CBD use may help people to quit smoking. A pilot study posted to Addictive Behaviors found that smokers who used an inhaler containing the compound CBD smoked fewer cigarettes but did not have any additional craving for nicotine.

Another similar study posted to Neurotherapeutics found that CBD may be a promising substance for people who abuse opioids.

Researchers noted that some symptoms experienced by patients with substance use disorders may be reduced by CBD. These include anxiety, mood symptoms, pain, and insomnia.

These are early findings, but they suggest that CBD may be used to avoid or reduce withdrawal symptoms.

Epilepsy and other mental health disorders

CBD is also being studied for its possible role in treating epilepsy and neuropsychiatric disorders.

A review posted to Epilepsia noted that CBD has anti-seizure properties and a low risk of side effects for people with epilepsy.

Studies into CBD’s effect on neurological disorders suggest that it may help to treat many of the disorders that are linked to epilepsy, such as neurodegeneration, neuronal injury, and psychiatric diseases.

Another study posted to Current Pharmaceutical Design found that CBD may have similar effects to certain antipsychotic drugs and that it may be safe and effective in treating patients with schizophrenia.

More research is needed to understand how this works, however.

Helps fight cancer

CBD has been studied for its use as an anti-cancer agent.

A review posted by the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology notes that CBD appears to block cancer cells from spreading around the body and invading an area entirely.

The review indicates that CBD tends to suppress the growth of cancer cells and promote the death of these cells.

Researchers note that CBD may help in cancer treatment because of its low toxicity levels. They call for it to be studied along with standard treatments, to check for synergistic effects.

Anxiety disorders

Patients with chronic anxiety are often advised to avoid cannabis, as THC can trigger or amplify anxiety and paranoia in some people.

However, a review from Neurotherapeutics suggests that CBD may help to reduce the anxiety felt by people with certain anxiety disorders.

The researchers point to studies showing that CBD may reduce anxiety behaviors in disorders such as:

  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • general anxiety disorder
  • panic disorder
  • social anxiety disorder
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder

The review notes that current medications for these disorders can lead to additional symptoms and side effects and that people may stop taking the drugs because of these unwanted effects.

CBD has not shown any adverse effects in these cases to date, and the researchers call for CBD to be studied as a potential treatment method.

Type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is caused by inflammation when the immune system attacks cells in the pancreas.

Recent research posted to Clinical Hemorheology and Microcirculation found that CBD may ease the inflammation in the pancreas in type 1 diabetes. This may be the first step in finding a CBD-based treatment for type 1 diabetes.

Acne

Another promising use for CBD is as a new treatment for acne. Acne is caused, in part, by inflammation and overworked sebaceous glands on the body.

A recent study posted in the Journal of Clinical Investigation found that CBD helps to lower the production of sebum that leads to acne, partly because of its anti-inflammatory effect on the body.

CBD could be a future treatment for acne vulgaris, the most common form of acne.

Alzheimer’s disease

Initial research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease found that CBD was able to prevent the development of social recognition deficit in subjects.

This means that CBD could potentially prevent people in the early stages of Alzheimer’s from losing their ability to recognize the faces of people that they know. This is the first evidence that CBD has potential to prevent Alzheimer’s disease symptoms.

Potential side effects and health risks

Many small-scale studies have looked into the safety of CBD in adults and found that it is well tolerated across a wide dose range.

There have been no significant central nervous system side effects or effects on vital signs or mood among people who use it either slightly or heavily.

The most common side effect noted is tiredness. Some people have noticed diarrhea and changes in appetite or weight.

There are still very little long-term safety data, and tests have not been carried out on children as of yet.

As with any new or alternative treatment option, a patient should discuss CBD with a qualified healthcare practitioner before using it.

Apple Cider Vinegar and Diabetes

For many years, apple cider vinegar has been linked with an array of health benefits. These have ranged from aiding weight loss to relieving cold symptoms. But does taking it help people with diabetes?

What is apple cider vinegar?

Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar derives from cider or fresh apples and is produced after a slow process that breaks down sugars.

Vinegar can be made from nearly any carbohydrate. Apple cider vinegar is derived from cider or freshly pressed apple juice.

Like most vinegar, apple cider vinegar is produced by a slow process spanning several weeks or months in which sugars are broken down.

Mother of vinegar is a cobweb-like substance made from yeast and bacteria that builds up during this period. Mother of vinegar gives the vinegar a cloudy appearance and it is only present in unfiltered apple cider vinegar. It is thought to boost the vinegar’s nutritional value.

However, most vinegar is pasteurized. This heating process kills bacteria but prevents the mother of vinegar from forming.

Apple cider vinegar and diabetes

In 1980, there were around 108 million people with diabetes worldwide. Its prevalence has increased greatly over the past few decades to an estimated 422 million. Diabetes is a chronic condition marked by an inability to manage blood sugar levels appropriately.

The hormone responsible for regulating blood sugar levels is called insulin. People with type 1 diabetes are unable to produce this hormone. People with type 2 diabetes are unable to produce enough insulin or respond appropriately to the hormone.

People can also develop a related condition known as prediabetes. This is where an individual may have blood sugar levels that are high, but not yet high enough to be diagnosed with diabetes.

Developing methods that help the body to regulate blood sugar levels efficiently is the most effective strategy in managing diabetes. Maintaining a healthful, balanced diet and regular exercise are crucial lifestyle factors that can help to achieve this.

Some evidence also suggests that consuming apple cider vinegar may be useful in helping people with diabetes to control their blood sugar levels.

One study demonstrated that apple cider vinegar reduced blood sugar levels and had a positive impact on cholesterol in rats with and without diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes

Glucometer
Studies suggest that a small amount of apple cider vinegar may help to reduce blood sugar levels after a spike following a meal high in carbohydrates.

In humans, researchers have looked at how consuming apple cider vinegar alongside a meal high in carbohydrates affected blood sugar levels in participants who had type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or neither condition.

Meals high in carbohydrates typically cause a spike in blood sugar levels immediately after eating. However, less than an ounce of apple cider vinegar significantly reduced blood sugar levels across all three groups following the meal, compared with the consumption of a placebo drink.

Another study in patients with type 2 diabetes compared apple cider vinegar with water. The authors found that consuming 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar with a cheese snack before bedtime was enough to significantly lower blood sugar levels the following morning.

This finding suggests that apple cider vinegar could also help to reduce fasting blood sugar levels. This refers to blood sugar levels after 8 hours without eating or drinking anything except water. Fasting blood sugar levels serve as a baseline measure of a person’s blood sugar levels.

It is thought that a component of apple cider vinegar called acetic acid may slow down the conversion of complex carbohydrates into sugar in the bloodstream.

This provides more time for the sugar to be removed from the bloodstream, allowing the body to keep blood sugar levels constant and limit spikes. This is also a theory underlying the effects of several different diabetes drugs.

Type 1 diabetes

While consuming apple cider vinegar could help people with type 2 diabetes control their blood sugar levels, it could be harmful to those with type 1 diabetes.

The inadequate digestion of food is a common complication for people with diabetes. Called gastroparesis or delayed gastric emptying, it means that food can remain in the stomach for an abnormally long period of time without being digested.

These delays in the digestive process make it harder for the body to consistently control blood sugar levels. A team of Swedish researchers found that apple cider vinegar increased the time in which food remains undigested in the stomach of people with type 1 diabetes.

It is important to note that a majority of the studies within this area have been conducted using small sample sizes and findings have not always been consistent.

A large-scale, randomized control trial to find out how apple cider vinegar affects blood sugar levels in patients with diabetes has yet to be conducted.

Any impact that apple cider vinegar might have on the regulation of blood sugar levels is likely to be relatively small compared with maintaining a healthful, balanced diet and regular exercise.

Based on the available evidence, apple cider vinegar could help people with type 2 diabetes to control their blood sugar levels. More research is needed for large-scale recommendations. Its consumption in moderation has yet to be linked with any significant harms or side effects.

How is it consumed?

Apple cider vinegar on a salad
Apple cider vinegar may be consumed diluted in water or used in marinades and salad dressings.

People who wish to consume apple cider vinegar are best diluting 1 to 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar in a large glass of water. It should be consumed before meals and there may be benefits associated with consuming it just before bedtime.

As with most vinegar, it is not recommended to consume undiluted apple cider vinegar. When drunk on its own, it can cause stomach irritation or damage to tooth enamel.

Apple cider vinegar can also be used as a versatile cooking ingredient. It is suitable for use in salad dressings, marinades, sauces, and soups. It works well with many types of meat and fish.

People are most likely to see the distilled varieties of apple cider vinegar on sale, which has a clear, see-through appearance. However, it is better to search for the unfiltered, cloudier varieties as they contain mother of vinegar and are more nutritious.

Summary

People with type 2 diabetes may want to consider diluted apple vinegar cider given that it is safe to consume and may provide some benefit to blood sugar level control. However, the evidence behind its benefits is still lacking.

It is important for people to note that apple cider vinegar should not be considered a quick fix for diabetes. Eating a balanced diet low in carbohydrates, high in fiber, and exercising regularly are the most effective methods of controlling diabetes.