Diabetes is one of the most widespread and hard to treat conditions of our time. Besides being a large contributor to premature death, it can also be the cause for loss of sight, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, and lower limb amputations. This condition does not only profoundly affect the patient, the cost of treatment can present a huge burden for individuals and healthcare system. A very promising area of treating diabetes seems to lie in cannabis. Millions of people with diabetes are seeking a relief from symptoms and huge healthcare expenditures connected to treatment.
More than 100 million residents of USA are living with diabetes or pre-diabetes. It is evaluated, that 8.5% of adults across the world are suffering from diabetes (in 1980, this rate was 4.7%). In Slovenia, diabetes touches 6.9% of population of mixed age. It occurs more often with elderly people; however younger individuals are suffering from it as well.
WHAT IS DIABETES?
Diabetes is a deadly, exhausting and cost intensive condition characterized by lack of insulin in our body (Type 1 diabetes, which usually already occurs with children and youth) or insulin insensitivity (Type 2 diabetes, usually occurring later in life and commonly connected to increased body weight and waist circumference). Consequently, there is a strong need for solutions to prevent and treat various symptoms, without inflated healthcare system and pharmaceutical costs.
Diabetes is expressed in high levels of glucose in our blood (hyperglycaemia), followed by metabolic changes leading to various complications of this condition. This means our body is no longer able to transport sugars (glucose) from blood into storage. This has a double effect:
- Causes high glucose levels in our blood
- The body cannot use glucose as its normal fuel
Increased concentration of sugar in our blood causes tissue damage via multiple mechanisms. Studies show, that in multiple processes the production of reactive oxygen (ROC) and reactive nitrogen compounds is active.
Role of Pancreas
It is very important for people with diabetes to regulate blood glucose levels and connected symptoms, to avoid worst case consequences, such as blindness, kidney damage, and limb amputation. As diabetes is a very complicated condition, the causes for type 1 or type 2 diabetes are not completely clear. Although, there are many unknowns connected to the causes, the effects on our body are very well documented. Both types originate from body’s inefficiencies in production and regulation of insulin – hormone produced by pancreas, which enables our body to process sugar. Once the condition progresses, individuals have to substitute this insulin or go through the very expensive insulin change therapy. You can read more about the effect of cannabinoids on pancreas here.
Research on relationship between cannabis and diabetes show great potential, however at this point larger studies, which show a definite correlation will have to be conducted.
CANNABIS CANNABINOIDS FOR DIABETES
Plenty of individuals turns to cannabis and cannabinoid-based products when it comes to diabetes. Some see advantages in blood sugar regulation, others in regulation of body weight, pain, depression, and general well-being.
Multi-level effects of cannabinoids can be seen in diabetes. Among others, they also have anti-inflammatory and antioxidative, neuroprotective, and cardioprotective properties. THCV (tetrahydrocannabivarin) plays a special role in blood sugar regulation. THCV is not one of the dominant cannabinoids in cannabis, and is usually produced in minority (contrary to CBD for example).
In a double-blind randomised study of diabetes type 2 patients, it showed that THCV considerably decreases morning levels of blood sugar, improves pancreas β-cell function, adiponektine, and apolipoprotein A levels.
Diabetics, who would like to use cannabinoids in addition to their present therapy, are recommended to start with 20mg of CBD approximately 1 hour before sleep for the first week (cca. 10-12 drops of 5% CBD oil). This is a suitable dosage for our body. Next week it is recommended to add 15mg of CBD in the morning before eating anything (cca. 8-10 drops of 5% CBD oil). Research have shown that pancreas reacts to cannabinoids better in the morning before eating, when it is not yet exposed to other food.
FULL SPECTRUM OF CANNABINOIDS
Besides cannabinoids there are other plants that can help with blood sugar regulation as well. We would mention especially cinnamon and moringa, which were very successful in regulation in some studies. Fibre consumption is important as well, as they have multi-level positive effects (they also feed beneficial bacteria and take care of the healthy microbiome). Sugar from food with a lot of fibres also absorbs into blood slower, which means less of blood sugar variation.
Due to cannabis use and claims, there was a lot of interest to find out if cannabis affects diabetes positively or negatively. Multiple studies have been conducted in this area.
Studies are divided in two categories, preventive and treatment. A 2012 study published in BMJ Open found a 58% decrease in diabetes risk connected to cannabis use. A study from USA also suggests, that cannabis use is connected to lower levels of insulin and increased insulin sensitivity (they both conclude it regulates blood sugar well) in 4.657 participants.
THE ENDOCANNABINOID SYSTEM
On contrary, a 2016 study published in Journal of Diabetes Research and a smaller Swedish study did not find any correlation.
The Diabetes Council organization claims, that correlation between cannabis and treatment of type 1, type 2, and pre-diabetes lies in anti-inflammatory effects of cannabinoids. The research conducted imply, that cannabis stabilizes blood sugar and consequently prevents nerve inflammation, decreases blood pressure through time, retains vein openness, and improves blood circulation. Research also concludes that cannabinoids could be much more efficient than current diabetes drugs.
Researches have also found, that CBD can prevent or postpone the emergence of this condition in people with type 1 diabetes. Furthermore, they found that THC can decrease autoimmune response of the disease and consequently decreases the required doses of insulin during treatment. For people with type 2 diabetes, cannabinoids can balance the endocannabinoid system, which enables people to lose weight easier (an important step in treating type 2 diabetes). Moreover, cannabinoids can help with decrease of insulin resistance (key mechanism for disease progression). You can read more about the endocannabinoid system here.
A Wider Outlook
Looking wider, anti-inflammatory effects of cannabis can be the key to treating the disease symptoms, including heart problems, pain, and eye issues. American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC) research found additional advantages of cannabis use for secondary symptoms including:
- Neuroprotective effect, which can decrease nerve pain
- Spasm agents, which can mitigate cramps and pain
- Vasodilator effect, which increases circulation
- Decrease in diabetic restless legs syndrome, which also makes people sleep better.
Scientific evidence shows there are positive or at least neutral effects of using cannabis for diabetes. Many clinical studies conclude, that cannabinoids can be beneficial when it comes to diabetes, with their regulation of blood sugar, pain, and other symptoms connected to diabetes. However, more studies will have to be conducted for licencing new medicine in this area.
We cannot look at cannabis as a heal all substance. However, it offers a potentially safer and cheaper treatment option for life with diabetes. Anecdotal success of cannabis for treating diabetes and promising research enable further serious research of this correlation.
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G. D. C.
17. 05. 2022