Every day, three million Canadians live with diabetes. By 2020 that number is expected to grow to 4.2 million, more than 10 percent of the country’s population. What’s worse, an estimated additional one million Canadians have the disease but do not know it.
Juvenile Diabetes, the common name for type 1 diabetes, is a genetic condition where the pancreas cannot create enough insulin to meet the body’s needs. Those with type 1 diabetes require multiple insulin injections daily. With type 2 diabetes, also known as adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, the body can produce insulin. However, the body either doesn't generate enough insulin to maintain a healthy glucose level, or the body resists the insulin it does create.
How cannabis helps
The American Journal of Medicine’s The Impact of Marijuana Use on Glucose, Insulin, and Insulin Resistance Among US Adults is a cornerstone report on the cannabis-diabetes connection.
Dr. Murray Mittleman, the study's co-author, pointed to the key finding that cannabis users’ fasting insulin levels were not only lower but also appeared to be less resistant to the insulin produced, helping them maintain a normal blood-sugar level. Cannabis users also better metabolized carbohydrates compared to non-cannabis users.
Cannabis for treating diabetes associated conditions
In addition to insulin insufficiency, certain conditions and complications are associated with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, including neuropathy, glaucoma, peripheral vascular disease, and high blood pressure.
Neuropathy affects roughly 70 per cent of all those with diabetes in one of four areas: peripheral (arms, hands, feet); autonomic (blood-glucose levels that control blood pressure, nerves); focal (legs, torso, head) and proximal or ‘one-sided’ (hips, thighs, buttocks).
Research from multiple studies concludes that cannabis can reduce and alleviate neuropathic pain.
Diabetes carries a 40 per cent increased risk of glaucoma, which involves a buildup of eye pressure that can cause pain and blindness. Cannabis has been shown to reduce eye pressure for short durations. Researchers are working on methods that will help increase the duration of its effects, and cannabis is a promising potential treatment for glaucoma.
Numerous studies point to cannabis as a promising—although not yet definitive—treatment for hypertension, or high blood pressure. We do know that regular cannabis use is associated with lower long-term blood pressure.
When it comes to cannabis and diabetes management, an area of concern for most physicians is the health risks associated with smoke inhalation. This has prompted the use of synthetic cannabinoids such as Sativex and Marinol, which are not inhaled, as well as prescription oils and vaporized cannabis flower.
What the future holds
In Israel, researchers at Hebrew University of Jerusalem are working with Ananda Scientific to study how CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabinoid found in cannabis and hemp, can be used to treat diabetes and related complications, such as atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease.
“Unlike insulin and other existing medications for diabetes, CBD may actually suppress, reverse and perhaps cure the disease,” says Ananda CEO Mark J. Rosenfeld. “So, the therapeutic alternatives offered by cannabis chemistry could go far in helping to resolve conditions responsible for a huge public health crisis.”
Feature image via Pexels