Better Diabetic Control Seen In Marijuana Users
May 15, 2013

Better Diabetic Control Seen In Marijuana Users

Lawrence LeBlond for - Your Universe Online

Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) has been used ritualistically for thousands of years and, for centuries, has been used as a way to relieve pain, improve mood and increase appetite. While several studies have given the wacky tobacky, as it is referred to by some, a bad rap, others have shown some positives. One such positive is the role marijuana may play in preventing PTSD symptoms from occurring. In another newly published paper, researchers have shown that regular marijuana may help with diabetes control.

Investigators from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) in Boston, published a paper in the current issue of the The American Journal of Medicine detailing how marijuana users had significantly lower fasting insulin and were less likely to be insulin resistant than those who did not smoke the weed. The researchers noted that this remained true even after excluding patients who had a diagnosis of diabetes.

Despite being outlawed in the US in 1937, social use of marijuana continues to rise and public opinion is increasingly swinging in favor of medicinal use of the drug. There are an estimated 17.4 million marijuana users in the US today, of which about 4.6 million of these smoke it on a daily basis.

Scientists have already developed a synthetic agent of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the active ingredient in marijuana. The synthetic drug has been approved to treat side-effects of chemotherapy, AIDS-induced anorexia, nausea and other conditions. Plus, 19 states in the Union already have laws in place that allow medicinal use of marijuana and just recently, two states have adopted laws allowing recreational use of the drug in limited quantities.

As marijuana use continues to rise, and no sign of anyone adhering to the negative research, it only makes sense to find more positives that come with its use.

For the current study, the BIDMC team analyzed data obtained from the National Health and Nutrition Survey (NHANES) between 2005 and 2010. Their research included data from 4,657 patients who completed a drug use questionnaire. Of these, 579 were current marijuana users, 1,975 had used it in the past, and 2,103 had never used the drug recreationally or medicinally. The team measured fasting insulin and glucose via blood samples after patients fasted for nine hours. The team also evaluated insulin resistance via homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR).

The researchers found that those who reported using marijuana in the past month had lower levels of fasting insulin and HOMA-IR and higher levels of HDL “good” cholesterol. Those who reported not using marijuana at any time in the last month had weaker associations, suggesting to the team that marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance exists only during recent use. Current users had 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels than those who reported never using marijuana.

The team also found a link between marijuana use and waistlines. While diabetes is often associated with larger waistlines, the study group found that marijuana users most often had smaller waistlines.

"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 researcher Murray A. Mittleman, MD, DrPH, of  the Cardiovscular Epidemiology Research Unit at BIDMC, said in a statement.

"It is possible that the inverse association in fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance seen among current marijuana users could be in part due to changes in usage patterns among those with a diagnosis of diabetes (i.e., those with diabetes may have been told to cease smoking). However, after we excluded those subjects with a diagnosis of diabetes mellitus, the associations between marijuana use and insulin levels, HOMA-IR, waist circumference, and HDL-C were similar and remained statistically significant," added Elizabeth Penner, MD, MPH, coauthor of the study.

Previous research has also shown that regular marijuana use is associated with lower body-mass index (BMI), despite confirmed knowledge that marijuana smokers have higher caloric intake on average.

"The mechanisms underlying this paradox have not been determined and the impact of regular marijuana use on insulin resistance and cardiometabolic risk factors remains unknown," said coauthor Hannah Buettner.

The researchers acknowledged that relying on self-reporting of marijuana use may lead to limitations in the study. Many people may downplay their marijuana use for fear of being labeled as a drug addict. Likewise, some self-reporters may be in denial of illicit drug use. However, the team points out that underestimation or denial of drug use would likely yield results biased toward observing no association.

Joseph S. Alpert, MD, Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, said the team´s observations are “remarkable.” He noted, however, that more research is needed on “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,” added Alpert, who is editor-in-chief of the The American Journal of Medicine.