Despite its reputation for the munchies, it might surprise you to learn that some emerging research suggests that cannabis might help with managing type 2 diabetes. The effects of cannabis on diabetes are not fully understood, so new findings have piqued experts’ curiosity as to how cannabinoids like CBD and THCV might be used in type 2 diabetes symptom management.

Diabetes Types 

When a patient has diabetes, the body either doesn’t make enough insulin or can’t use it as well as it should. Diabetes is a chronic health condition that has no cure. 

Two types of diabetes exist. Type 1 diabetes is a genetic condition. It often shows up early in life, whereas type 2 is mainly lifestyle-related and develops later. With type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t make insulin or makes very little insulin. Insulin is a hormone produced in the pancreas that helps blood sugar enter cells in the body to use as energy. Without insulin, blood sugar can’t get into those cells and builds up in the bloodstream, so synthetic insulin must be introduced to facilitate this process.

Type 2 diabetes, on the other hand, is an impairment in the way the body regulates and uses sugar (glucose) as a fuel, resulting in too much sugar circulating in the bloodstream. High blood sugar levels can lead to disorders of the circulatory, nervous and immune systems. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes increases with age, likely because people tend to gain weight and exercise less as they get older.

How Do Doctors Treat Type 2 Diabetes?

Although there’s no cure for type 2 diabetes, studies show it’s possible for some people to reverse it. Losing weight, eating well, and exercising can help manage the disease. 

If diet and exercise aren’t enough to manage your blood sugar, your doctor may recommend diabetes medications or insulin therapy. People with type 2 diabetes can develop additional medical problems such as high blood pressure, damage to eyes (diabetic retinopathy) and nerves (diabetic nueropathy), and even have heart attacks and strokes. The main goal of taking diabetes medications is to prevent these other conditions from developing.

Several classes of type 2 diabetes medicines exist. Each class works in different ways to lower blood sugar. Some of these classes include blood-pressure lowering drugs called antihypertensives, acetylsalicylic acid for preventing blood clots, and statins for lowering cholesterol levels. All of these medications are prone to side effects and may also interact with other medications.

All people with type 1 diabetes have to inject insulin. People with type 2 diabetes usually only need insulin if medications don’t reduce their blood sugar levels enough.

How Could Cannabis Help? 

A well-known side effect of THC is ‘the munchies”. Cannabis can increase food cravings, which can lead to an increase in weight. Often these cravings are for foods that are high in carbohydrates and calories. 

One would think cannabis would be the last thing to use for someone trying to control their diet. Oddly, though, it’s been observed that cannabis users had lower BMI levels compared to nonusers in some studies. This leads researchers to believe cannabis may be able to help with managing blood sugar levels, and it could help to improve insulin resistance with type 2 diabetes. 

The 2016 study that found that cannabis users had lower BMI levels compared to nonusers suggested that cannabis could regulate the body’s weight.

According to the study:  “Regulation of the BMI is closely related to the whole body energy balance, and it is now accepted that cannabinoid receptor agonists not only facilitate energy intake but also can enhance energy storage into the adipose tissue and reduce energy expenditure by influencing both lipid and glucose metabolism. In this way, cannabis can impact not only BMI, but also insulin sensitivity differently in different tissues like adipose tissue and the liver.”

Even though some of this research is promising about the benefits of cannabis on blood sugar control, there still isn’t enough evidence to be clear about its influence.

CBD for Type 2 Diabetes

The endocannabinoid system modulates food intake and energy homeostasis by activating cannabinoid receptors. In animal models, it’s thought that two of these receptors, cannabidiol (CBD) and (THCV) may have an effect on the onset of diabetes and the ability to regulate insulin production. Scientists theorize that cannabis has desirable effects on hyperglycemia through its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

Modulation of these receptors with CBD has the possibility to reduce body weight and A1C in people with diabetes. In this case study, after 4 months of using CBD oil, a patient increased his CBD dose to 18 mg twice daily and self-reported benefits for joint pain management. After 13 months of the patient’s same medication regimen, his A1C remained stable at 7.7%, and his weight also remained stable.  

While scientific evidence is lacking, anecdotal evidence on the usefulness of CBD for diabetic symptoms isn’t. One registered nurse in Nevada reported that her patients who took CBD reduced their nerve pain and improved their blood sugar. She added that patients who used CBD oils for nerve pain also reported sleeping better.

THCV for Type 2 Diabetes

Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV) is a cannabinoid with unique properties that set it apart from the more common cannabis compounds. Not only does it lack the psychoactive effects that THC has, it does not produce the infamous THC “munchies”. In fact, THCV has great potential for the management of obesity. Scientists also believe THCV could represent a new therapeutic agent in glycemic control in subjects with type 2 diabetes, according to this 2016 report.

Some Tips to Consider About Using Cannabis as a Type 2 Diabetic 

Drinking alcohol: Alcohol directly affects blood sugar; cannabis indirectly. We know that regular, long-term use or abuse of alcohol increases insulin resistance. This means drinking too much can make it even harder for people with type 2 diabetes to manage their blood sugar. Cannabis could help: One study conducted across three U.S. dispensaries found that participants reported a 42 percent reduction in alcohol consumption after they started using medical cannabis.

Diet: While cannabis may be helpful, the key to managing type 2 diabetes lies in managing your weight. Getting to and maintaining a healthy weight can make it easier to control blood glucose and offers a host of other health benefits. This Mayo Clinic resource may be helpful to some patients in developing a diet that’s right for treating type 2 diabetes. 

Medical Marijuana Qualification: Many state programs don’t include diabetes as a qualifying condition to get a medical marijuana card. People struggling with symptoms of diabetes may qualify under other conditions such as chronic pain or neuropathy. 

Medical marijuana may or may not be an appropriate complementary therapy in treating Type 2 diabetes. It’s important to talk with your diabetes care team before embarking on a cannabis journey

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Portions of this article were originally published on DuberMedical.com. MedicateOH thanks Duber Medical for allowing us to republish this content to reach a wider audience.

Author

  • Medicate OH's Founder and Publisher is a native of Cincinnati, Ohio and holds an undergraduate degree in journalism and a master's degree in public administration, both from Northern Kentucky University. She has more than 20 years of experience writing and editing professionally for the medical and wellness industries, including positions with The Journal of Pediatrics, Livestrong, The Cincinnati Enquirer, and Patient Pop.