marijuana plants, cannabidiol, THC

Marijuana is renowned for stimulating appetite, ie, the “marijuana munchies.” There are actual data suggesting that people who smoke marijuana average more caloric intake than nonsmokers. That’s why it comes as a total shock to learn that people who consume more calories because they smoke dope actually have less obesity, a lower body mass index (BMI) and a lower likelihood of developing diabetes. What the heck is going on?

A new study in the American Journal of Medicine offers an explanation. The researchers found that the use of marijuana was associated with “lower levels of fasting insulin” and less insulin resistance. The subjects of the study were recruited from over 4000 men and women who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 through 2010. Nearly 2000 of the subjects were past users of marijuana and 579 were current users.

The current users of marijuana had lower fasting insulin levels (16% lower) and reduced insulin resistance (17% lower). They also had smaller waist circumference. Less insulin resistance is likely to reduce the risk for developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, an editorial in the same issue of the American Journal of Meidicine titled “Marijuana for Diabetic Control” offers the following observations: 

 “This epidemiologic study revealed that current marijuana users had significantly lower levels of fasting insulin and were less likely to be insulin resistant. Penner et al analyzed data obtained during the National Health and Nutrition Survey between 2005 and 2010. They studied data from 4657 patients, of whom 579 were current users of cannabis, 1975 used cannabis in the past but were not current users, and 2103 had never inhaled or ingested marijuana. These patients had fasting insulin and glucose levels measured along with a test for insulin resistance. Remarkably, fasting insulin levels were reduced in current cannabis users but not in former or never users. Two additional observations were that waist circumference was smaller and high-density lipoprotein cholesterol blood levels were higher in current cannabis users. These are indeed remarkable observations that are supported, as the authors note, by basic science experiments that came to similar conclusions.

“Is it possible that THC [tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana] will be commonly prescribed in the future for patients with diabetes or metabolic syndrome alongside antidiabetic oral agents or insulin for improved management of this chronic illness? Only time will answer this question for us. Nevertheless, what is very clear is that we desperately need a great deal more basic and clinical research into the short- and long-term effects of this agent in a variety of clinical settings, such as cancer, diabetes, and frailty of the elderly.”

Joseph S. Alpert, MD,  Professor of Medicine, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson Editor-in-Chief, The American Journal of Medicine

We second Dr. Alpert’s request. We need much better science to explore the potential benefits of medical marijuana. We are glad that the door has been opened to this kind of research. 

If you are interested in other non-drug approaches to blood sugar control, you may find our Guide to Managing Diabetes helpful.

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  1. JHK

    Yet another example of wrongheaded ideology preventing science from helping suffering people. The beneficial effects of cannabis should have been realized a generation ago. And we still have a long way to go for any effectiveness to take place. Viva Colorado.

  2. Roger S.

    Study after study has shown the benefits of Cannabis. I think it’s time we decriminalize this gift from Mother Nature and start reaping all it has to offer.

  3. Karen

    My own experience suggests that one gets a similar outcome with regular cigarettes, but they’re so frowned-upon no researcher could risk his or her grant money on that study.

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