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Study: Marijuana Use May Lower Risk of Diabetes

By on May 17, 2013

Many diabetics require daily insulin shots. Image source – A new study suggests that regular marijuana use may help to reduce the risk of developing diabetes.

The results, published on May 15 in The American Journal of Medicine, found that marijuana users exhibited lower fasting insulin levels, smaller waist lines and had a lower probability of being insulin resistant.

All three of these measures have been linked to a lesser risk of diabetes.

The study involved a group of over 4,500 adults who took part in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2010. 579 of the test subjects reported current use of cannabis, 1,975 reported former use and 2,103 said they never used the drug.

Blood samples taken from the study group also revealed a connection between cannabis use and higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) – the “good” type of cholesterol that is believed to reduce the risk of heart disease.

(MORE: Can Medical Marijuana Treat Atherosclerosis?)

Interestingly, the reduction in insulin resistance and fasting levels was highest among current users, 16% and 17% respectively. Past users seemed to experience less benefits, although an overall dose-dependent effect of marijuana use was not evident.

While previous studies have demonstrated a wide range of potential applications for medical marijuana, a lower risk of diabetes remains controversial.

In fact, clinical trials have found cannabinoid inverse agonists – drugs that prevent cannabinoid receptors from being activated – to have similar effects as those observed in the current study.

Lead author Dr. Murray Mittleman attempted to explain this apparent contradiction.

“It is possible that some of the cannabinoid compounds in the marijuana used by the study participants may have had mixed effects, partially stimulating and partially blocking the [cannabinoid] receptors,” Mittleman told HealthLine.

Still, other studies seem to support the overall suggestion that cannabis may actually be able to reduce the risk of diabetes.

“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,” Mittleman said in a press release.

Dr. Joseph S. Alpert, professor of medicine at UACM and editor-in-chief of The American Journal of Medicine, also weighed in on the new findings, calling on federal organizations to not only delve deeper into marijuana’s effect on diabetes, but medical marijuana as a whole.

“These are indeed remarkable observations that are supported, as the authors note, by basic science experiments that came to similar conclusions,” said Alpert.

“We desperately need a great deal more basic and clinical research into the short- and long-term effects of marijuana in a variety of clinical settings such as cancer, diabetes, and frailty of the elderly,” he continued. “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.”

(MORE: Medical Marijuana For Pancreatic Cancer?)

The study was conducted through the collaboration of researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the University of Nebraska and the Harvard School of Public Health.

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