Marijuana: The Next Diabetes Drug?

  • Share
  • Read Later
Getty Images

Toking up may help marijuana users to stay slim and lower their risk of developing diabetes, according to the latest study, which suggests that cannabis compounds may help in controlling blood sugar.

Although marijuana has a well-deserved reputation for increasing appetite via what stoners call “the munchies,” the new research, which was published in the American Journal of Medicine, is not the first to find that the drug has a two-faced relationship to weight. Three prior studies have shown that marijuana users are less likely to be obese, have a lower risk for diabetes and have lower body-mass-index measurements. And these trends occurred despite the fact that they seemed to take in more calories.

Why? “The most important finding is that current users of marijuana appeared to have better carbohydrate metabolism than nonusers,” says Murray Mittleman, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the lead author of the study. “Their fasting insulin levels were lower, and they appeared to be less resistant to the insulin produced by their body to maintain a normal blood-sugar level.”

The research included over 4,600 men and women participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2010. Among them, 48% had smoked marijuana at least once in their lives, and 12% were current cannabis smokers. The authors controlled for other factors like age, sex, income, alcohol use, cigarette smoking and physical activity that could also affect diabetes risk.

Even after these adjustments, the current marijuana users showed fasting insulin levels that were 16% lower than those of former or never users, along with a 17% reduction in another measure of insulin resistance as well. Higher levels on both tests are associated with Type 2 diabetes, which is linked with obesity. Marijuana users also had higher levels of high-density lipoprotein, the so-called good cholesterol, which can protect against heart disease. And the regular smokers also boasted smaller waistlines: on average, they were 1.5 in. (3.8 cm) slimmer than the former users and those who had never smoked cannabis.

Researchers don’t yet know how to explain these correlations — and since the study was not a controlled trial, it’s not clear whether marijuana or some other factor in marijuana users’ lifestyles actually accounted for the beneficial effects. Studies showed, however, that the cannabinoid brain receptors affected by marijuana are deeply involved in appetite and metabolism. But the exact details of how the compound alters the relationship between appetite, caloric intake and insulin response isn’t obvious yet.

One clue, however, may lie in the effects of a diet drug that was developed to have the opposite effect that marijuana has on the brain. That drug, rimonabant, produced significant weight loss and a drop in fasting insulin levels by affecting certain cannabinoid receptors in the exact opposite way that THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive ingredient, does. This action is complex: rimonabant doesn’t simply block the receptor and keep the natural cannabinoids from activating it. Instead, while the natural cannabinoids elevate the normal level of activity already going on in the system, rimonabant lowers it so the result is precisely the reverse of activating the receptor naturally. However, because of psychiatric side effects like increasing suicide risk, rimonabant was pulled from the European market and never approved in the U.S.

(MORE: Reverse Engineering the Marijuana ‘Munchies’: What Causes Binge Eating?)

How could both marijuana and a compound that has the opposite effect of pot act on the same brain receptors and lead to weight loss? Natural marijuana includes many different potentially active compounds, and one of them — rather than THC — could be responsible for this effect. One potential candidate is a substance called cannabidiol, which also affects cannabinoid receptors, but in a different way from the way THC or rimonabant does.

Another possibility involves tolerance: repeated use of a drug can make receptors less sensitive over time. “The most likely explanation is that prolonged cannabis use causes the [receptors] to lose sensitivity and become inactive,” says Daniele Piomelli, a professor of pharmacology at the University of California, Irvine, who was not associated with the new research. “This has been shown to happen in people who smoke marijuana. This weakening of [these receptors] translates into a lower risk for obesity and diabetes because the inactive receptor would be unable to respond to our own cannabis-like molecules, which we know are important in keeping us chubby.” While marijuana may initially promote appetite and overeating, in the long run it has the opposite effect because it desensitizes cannabinoid receptors and may even protect against obesity.

So don’t skip the gym and break out the bong just yet: there’s still not enough data to tell whether marijuana, like alcohol, could have health benefits in moderation. Mittleman says the study relied on self-reported use of marijuana, which can be unreliable. However, he points out that since people are more likely to hide drug use than they are to falsely claim it, the findings could even underestimate marijuana’s effects.

(MORE: Marijuana Slims? Why Pot Smokers Are Less Obese)

But whether that’s true, and whether marijuana might be a window into understanding how to best control glucose and insulin to prevent diabetes, isn’t known yet. “It is much too early to say,” says Mittleman, “We need much more research to better understand the biologic responses to marijuana use. We really need more research to allow physicians and patients to make decisions based on solid evidence.” An editorial that accompanied the study also urged government action to reduce barriers to such research.

Even with 18 states now approving marijuana for medical uses, the politics of pot will always overshadow research efforts to understand how cannabinoids work in the brain — or affect disease. But, as Piomelli says, “the [new] study suggests that smoking marijuana [may] protect people against obesity and diabetes.” And following up on that finding could yield new insights into how to tackle one of our biggest public-health issues.

1445 comments
PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

Such a very useful article. Very interesting to read this article.I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article.  http://floorscrubber.org/

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.  cara mengecilkan perut

SandraBJurgens
SandraBJurgens

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. livros mais vendidos

HammadAamir
HammadAamir

Crossfit is a sport that uses a lot of traditional elements to combine them into one intense sport and workout. However, just when you thought that you were ready to get into Crossfit, there’s one piece of equipment that’s probably essential to practicing the sport like it was meant to: top shoes.  http://www.xbestcrossfitshoesx.com

AdeemAK
AdeemAK

Thank you for not rambling on and on just to fill the page. I enjoyed reading your post and found it to be informative and to the topic.  AMAZING JOB !!!

http://www.proseotips.co.uk/

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

I really appreciate that you wrote this article and shared some really good information on this specific topic. I was in vital need to get some information on this topic and thanks to you, I've got that! Thanks, once again!  edsozuandotudo.info

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

You have a real ability for writing unique content. I like how you think and the way you represent your views in this article. I agree with your way of thinking.  car service in Toronto

AdeemAK
AdeemAK

Thank you for not rambling on and on just to fill the page. I enjoyed reading your post and found it to be informative and to the topic.  WELL DONE!!!!

http://www.pebble-stone.co.uk/

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

You will find a lot of approaches after visiting your post. I was exactly searching for. Thanks for such post and please keep it up. Great work.  24 Hour Locksmith

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading.  Moving Services Houston

IvonneBHatch
IvonneBHatch

Your good knowledge and kindness in playing with all the pieces was very useful. I don’t know what I would have done if I had not encountered such a step like this http://www.thevklawfirm.com

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

This content is written very well. Your use of formatting when making your points makes your observations very clear and easy to understand. Thank you!  Marketing Online

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

You have a real ability for writing unique content. I like how you think and the way you represent your views in this article. I agree with your way of thinking.  marketing online

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

First You got a great blog .I will be interested in more similar topics. i see you got really very useful topics.  Lead Generation

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

Such a very useful article. Very interesting to read this article.I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article. bebek oyunları

PrinceShaikh
PrinceShaikh

Thanks for giving me this information. Keep posting. Ready to escape insomnia’s vicious cir­cle and reboot your brain for sound sleep.  Wendy Bongalis-Royer

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

A very nice and good post this. I really like it very much. Keep this quality of your work on articles going on and please do not let the quality of your articles fall to bad. Cheers! exotic car rental miami

LunaAnderw
LunaAnderw

At 911quotes.com, we take your favorite sayings and turn them into art. Choose from a vast selection of beautifully designed quotes or create your own using our quote generator or poster maker. We offer a multitude of printed formats to help you celebrate your favorite quotes: canvas, poster, framed poster, wall decal, and wood flush mount.

http://911quotes.com

HammadAamir
HammadAamir

OUR HIGHLY EXPERIENCED TEAM CONSISTENTLY DEVELOP MENU ITEMS ON AN ON-GOING BASIS....KEEPING OUR MENU INNOVATING, FUN, AFFORDABLE AND MEGA SIZED PORTIONS.....ONLY USING THE TOP QUALITY BEST INGREDIENTS.....BETTER QUALITY, BETTER TASTE AND BETTER VALUE. http://megafoodcourt.com/

LunaAnderw
LunaAnderw

Awesome, I was searching for something along the lines of this. What would you say would be the most effective way of marketing online (apart from) emailing, because that's a given.http://911quotes.com

FarzeenKhan
FarzeenKhan

We are in love with love. Our love for each other fuels our passion for shooting weddings, and capturing the highlights in the lives of our clients. Photography adds so much joy to our lives, so we use it to bring joy to others.

<a title="Photographers in bakersfield" href="http://www.rjphotostudios.com">Photographers in bakersfield</a>

IvonneBHatch
IvonneBHatch

I wish to show thanks to you just for bailing me out of this particular trouble.As a result of checking through the the net and meeting techniques that were not productive, I was thinking my life was done.  http://www.dresslerphoto.com

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Two full thumbs up for this magneficent article of yours. I've really enjoyed reading this article today and I think this might be one of the best article that I've read yet. Please, keep this work going on in the same quality.Breder Suasso

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

I must say that overall I am really impressed with this blog. It is easy to see that you are passionate about your writing. If only I had your writing ability I look forward to more updates and will be returning.Breder Suasso

SandraBJurgens
SandraBJurgens

Such a very useful article. Very interesting to read this article.I would like to thank you for the efforts you had made for writing this awesome article.
Jody Kriss

SandraBJurgens
SandraBJurgens

This is also a very good post which I really enjoyed reading. It is not everyday that I have the possibility to see something like this..
US Air dates

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

Excellent. You have done this article very neatly and intelligently and I must say that I am really impressed by this. Please, share some more articles like this soon. cheapest place for fifa 15 coins

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

I am always searching online for articles that can help me. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.about us

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

I was very impressed by this post, this site has always been pleasant news Thank you very much for such an interesting post, and I meet them more often then I visited this site. modern bedding

UsamaFaisalKhatri
UsamaFaisalKhatri

411.ca also helps Canadian businesses move online by providing fast, easy & secure access to Internet domain names 411domains.ca & hosting 411hosting.ca. Article

UsamaFaisalKhatri
UsamaFaisalKhatri

Excellent writing skills you have shown here, my friend. I am really impressed by this and I hope that you will give us some more amazing posts like this. Thanks!

cheap limo hire Kent

UsamaFaisalKhatri
UsamaFaisalKhatri

Excellent. You have done this article very neatly and intelligently and I must say that I am really impressed by this. Please, share some more articles like this soon. Thanks man. wedding car hire Glasgow

SandraBJurgens
SandraBJurgens

I must say that overall I am really impressed with this blog. It is easy to see that you are passionate about your writing. If only I had your writing ability I look forward to more updates and will be returning. apprendre la photo

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

First You got a great blog .I will be interested in more similar topics. i see you got really very useful topics, i will be always checking your blog thanks.Singapore online shopping

AfiaKhan
AfiaKhan

411.ca was transferred into a seperate company, 411 Local Search Corp. in 2006. This company has numerous shareholders with the largest shareholder, Yellow Media Inc. at 30% equity stake in a transaction March, 2010.Here

HammadAamir
HammadAamir

You’re happy in your home, it’s exactly as you want but you just need some extra space. You know the best solution is to convert that dusty, old loft. You’ve made the decision but the question is where to begin? http://www.smalofts.co.uk/