Regular cannabis users eat more, but weigh less. If this news surprises you, imagine how researchers feel upon uncovering these results. But study after study after study after study point in the same direction: for reasons still to be determined, regular cannabis consumers are, on average, thinner than their non-consuming peers, with lower fasting insulin levels, lower body mass (BMI), smaller waistlines and better-controlled blood sugar, even when their cannabis consumption comes with a higher intake of alcohol, pork and salty snacks.
While it’s tempting to pull out the vaporizer and pass the Doritos over the obvious recreational benefits of these findings, the medical potential they represent is even more promising, particularly for people managing diabetes or looking to prevent its future development. And, as we’ll see below, researchers aren’t just excited the future of diabetes prevention, but are also interested in how cannabis can help people with diabetes manage their symptoms now.
How might cannabis prevent diabetes?
Of the three million Canadians with diagnosed diabetes, 90 per cent have type 2, previously known as adult onset diabetes. Unlike type 1 diabetes, which is an autoimmune disease triggered by genes, infection or the environment and has no known strategies for prevention, type 2 diabetes is caused by a mix of genetic and lifestyle factors and can often be prevented, or delayed. People from families with a history of diabetes or from particular ethnic backgrounds are more likely to develop the disease – those factors can’t be helped. But being obese and physically inactive – factors that can (usually) be controlled – also increase the chance of developing type 2 diabetes.
So it goes without saying that if cannabis consumption is associated with lower BMIs, then it would also be associated with lower rates of diabetes, which it is – up to 58 per cent lower, in fact. In a very general way, this information helps us identify a prevailing trend, but understanding the mechanisms behind the trend is much, much more complicated.
It’s possible the apparent weight-reducing effects of cannabis may be cultivar (or strain)-dependent. In pre-clinical studies, cultivars high in the cannabinoids CBD and THCV have been shown to curb appetite, which could explain the lower weights and smaller waistlines.
Or, it could be, as Forbes reports that “CBD may fix an endocannabinoid imbalance that makes it harder for people to lose weight, which is an important step in treating type 2.” Or perhaps it’s because CBD impairs the insulin resistance mechanism at the heart of diabetes’ progression. Then again, it could be that frequently consuming THC creates a tolerance that weakens certain endocannabinoid receptors and mitigates the consequences of cannabis-inspired snacking (aka, “the munchies”). Or maybe we should look to terpenes, the chemicals that give cannabis plants their distinctive aroma. Or perhaps all these effects work together. Sometimes. Maybe.
This article offers a mere glimpse at the seemingly contradictory correlations between cannabis, cannabinoids, weight and diabetes. Untangling the complicated relationships between human physiology, disease progression and cannabis – which is not one medicine, but thousands, each cultivar representing unique combinations of ingredients and components for study – is an ongoing task that will occupy researchers for some time to come.
In the meantime, although we don’t always understand how or why, we do know that for some diabetes patients, cannabis can be effective in treating a number of symptoms.
Cannabis as a diabetes treatment
“We have to be careful when we talk about what cannabis can and can’t do,” says Natural Care director of patient care Karen Newell, who is also a registered practical nurse. “Based on current research, we can’t say that cannabis is a cure for diabetes, or even a treatment for diabetes, but we can say that it helps manage several common symptoms of the disease.”
Here are some common secondary symptoms of diabetes that cannabis may help:
At the end of the day, cannabis medicine is personal medicine – every person processes cannabis uniquely, just as every person with diabetes experiences the disease in their own way.
If you’d like to learn more about whether cannabis can help with your diabetes symptoms, it’s best to consult a cannabis-savvy doctor or nurse practitioner. If you’re in Canada, and interested in exploring a prescription for yourself or a loved one, call us at 1.888.671.8022 or visit our booking form to request a free online appointment with a cannabis-prescribing clinician.