By Angela Johns, PhD
Diabetes is a serious complex condition which can affect your entire body. Diabetes requires daily self care and if complications develop, diabetes can have a significant impact on your quality of life. While there is currently no cure for this condition, it can be treated with medication or by dietary changes. The two main types of diabetes are Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 diabetes is caused by a fault in the body’s immune response in which the immune system mistakenly targets and kills insulin producing cells (called beta cells). Beta cells are found in the pancreas . As more insulin producing cells in the pancreas are killed off, the body can no longer control its blood glucose levels and the symptoms of diabetes begin to appear.
Type 2 diabetes is more common than Type 1 diabetes and results in high blood glucose levels due to the body being ineffective at using the insulin it has produced or being unable to produce enough insulin. This leads to high levels of blood glucose which over time may damage the organs of the body.
Symptoms of diabetes can include excessive thirst (drinking lots of fluids) and frequently going to the toilet, unexplained weight loss, weakness and fatigue and blurred vision, excess hunger, mood changes and skin infections.
Can Medical Cannabis help with my diabetes?
Cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years. Research now indicates cannabis may have medicinal properties that can provide benefits for diabetes, as well as other health conditions. Cannabis plants contain active compounds called cannabinoids. Two of these compounds called tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) and cannabidiol (CBD) have shown to have benefits for diabetes.
Some studies (1-3) in animals and humans have highlighted potential health benefits of medical cannabis for diabetes patients;
- can ease nerve pain (known as neuropathy)
- helps to keep blood vessels open and therefore improving your circulation and
- lower your blood pressure which can help reduce the risk of heart disease.
An interesting study (4) showed that users of cannabis had appeared to have lower fasting blood insulin levels than non users and that cannabis users were more able to maintain a normal blood sugar level. It should be noted that this study was not a randomised controlled clinical trial and therefore other factors in the users’ lifestyle might need to be taken into account.
In addition, there is further scientific evidence that medical cannabis could potentially aid in treating complications of diabetes such as diabetic retinopathy (5) (damage to blood vessels in the retina at the back of the eye).
This research does look promising and holds potential that compounds from medical cannabis could benefit your diabetes. However, clinical trials need to be carried out where standardised doses of various cannabinoids are compared with current treatments to ensure they are both safe and effective. As cannabis laws change around the world, it will become easier for scientists to investigate medicinal cannabis further and come to solid conclusions about its role as a treatment for diabetes.
- Di Marzo V, Piscitelli F, Mechoulam R. Cannabinoids and endocannabinoids in metabolic disorders with focus on diabetes. Handb Exp Pharmacol. 2011(203):75-104.
- Wallace MS, Marcotte TD, Umlauf A, Gouaux B, Atkinson JH. Efficacy of Inhaled Cannabis on Painful Diabetic Neuropathy. J Pain. 2015;16(7):616-27.
- Hepler RS, Frank IR. Marihuana smoking and intraocular pressure. JAMA. 1971;217(10):1392.
- Penner EA, Buettner H, Mittleman MA. The impact of marijuana use on glucose, insulin, and insulin resistance among US adults. Am J Med. 2013;126(7):583-9.
5. Liou G, El-Remessy A, Ibrahim A, Caldwell R, Khalifa Y, Gunes A, et al. Cannabidiol As a Putative Novel Therapy for Diabetic Retinopathy: A Postulated Mechanism of Action as an Entry Point for Biomarker-Guided Clinical Development. Curr Pharmacogenomics Person Med. 2009;7(3):215-22.