With an increasing number of states legalizing marijuana for recreational use, and a large number of states allowing medical marijuana, and last year’s FDA approval of first cannabis-derived prescription drug, it’s not surprise people with diabetes have been asking about marijuana. Can it be used safely by people with diabetes and can it be used as a treatment for diabetes?
There is some research showing positive results for the use of marijuana for the treatment of diabetes. But is really safe for people with diabetes to smoke marijuana?
Marijuana has been proven to be an effective treatment for a variety of health ailments—often with fewer side effects than many of the other drugs that are available today with a prescription or over-the-counter. It comes from the cannabis plant and contains cannabinoids, which are chemicals that work within the Endo-cannabinoid System (ECS) in the human body. These chemicals are naturally found within the body but may be in short supply for people with certain ailments. When a person takes a drug containing cannabinoids, these chemicals collaborate with the receptors of the central nervous system to produce various benefits in the brain and body.
Cannabinoids have different properties that impact the way a person’s body and brain works, including:
- Pain sensation
- Immune system response
- Hormone balance (including insulin)
THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) is the cannabinoid that most people are aware of as the active ingredient in marijuana, which is what gives the plant its psychotropic effects. CBD (cannabidiol) is another highly researched chemical found in marijuana that impacts the health in a variety of ways.
Marijuana and Diabetes
When considering marijuana use in conjunction with diabetes, there’s a lack of controlled trial testing on a large scale. In relation to the treatment of diabetes, some studies note that the anti-inflammatory capabilities of the cannabinoids in marijuana may have therapeutic effects that may help to: stabilize blood sugar, lower blood pressure, prevent nerve inflammation, and improve circulation in diabetics. A study published in The Natural Medicine Journal showed that marijuana use may be associated with lower levels of glucose, fasting insulin, body mass index, waist circumference, and HOMA-IR.
Marijuana Effects and Risks
All of these are positive indicators that using marijuana may have a positive impact people with diabetes. However, many considerations should be made before jumping into the use of marijuana. Marijuana, whether or not you have diabetes, comes with its share of potential side effects.
Effects can vary between individuals, but these are common:
- Altered perception
- Short term memory loss
- Lack of coordination
- Slow reaction times
- Damage to lungs and breathing problems (when smoked)
Since the use of marijuana can impact the appetite and perception, it’s important for people with diabetes who use marijuana to be prepared to address insulin and sugar needs as they occur. As balancing blood sugar can be like walking on a tight rope, it is critical to take into account the extra food that may be eaten in response to getting the “munchies”.
Another consideration is, if the THC in marijuana brings on a state of euphoria, the user may not be as capable of discerning how they feel in terms of blood glucose levels. Perceptions may be skewed, which means blood sugar levels should be checked frequently, even if the person “feels okay”.
Of course, if marijuana is smoked, dangers and risks are certainly prevalent in relationship the impact of the smoke on the respiratory system, especially the lungs. Other options for taking marijuana (that may be less dangerous than smoking it) include oils taken sublingually, vaping the oil, edibles, and applying it to the skin in a lotion, cream, or spray.
Legality and Marijuana
If you live in the US and are hoping to legally take marijuana for your diabetes, then the future could be bright. Currently 33 states and the District of Columbia have made marijuana legal for medical purposes, and 14 more states have made allowances for medical use of marijuana with limited THC content.
That said, marijuana usage technically remains illegal federally. Depending on which state you live in, you may be able to access marijuana easily, but it’s important to remember that you still need to be very careful. It is critical to make health decisions based on the recommendations of your doctor as well as the laws that govern the place where you live. And if you are using marijuana medically, always be sure to get it from an approved dispensary.
CBD: Another Option
While marijuana may hold a great deal of promise in treating diabetes, many people are uncomfortable with the feeling they get of being ‘high’. Other people have legitimate concerns about their ability to use marijuana and function in their jobs and duties. This is where CBD oil comes in as an option.
CBD is extracted from the industrial hemp plant and contains only trace amounts of THC, but still has many of the active benefits that marijuana provides. Plus, it’s legal in all fifty states. The FDA has approved CBD oil as a ‘food supplement’ which means a medical professional can’t prescribe it, but can recommend it. As with any medication, check with your doctor to be sure that CBD is a safe for your particular circumstances.
So the question about whether or not marijuana is safe for people with diabetes? Well, the answer is—it’s complicated. And that’s probably not going to change for some time. Staying connected, watching out for more research, and talking to your doctor is your best bet for moving forward.