Diabetes And Cannabis: The Good, The Bad, And The Confusing

Marijuana is an excellent topic if you’re in the mood to spark debate. Feelings toward the drug have softened since 1970, when the Controlled Substances Act made all types of cannabis use illegal in the United States, but whether or not it should be illegal is still hotly debated.

The World Health Organization announced that cannabidol (CBD), a compound found in cannabis plants, is non-addictive and non-toxic, and should not be considered a drug. They found that CBD can be used in the treatment of epilepsy and other serious health conditions. CBD does not have psychoactive properties.

So why is it not widely available? Well, like most things related to marijuana, it’s complicated.

Photo: AdobeStock/olly
Photo: AdobeStock/olly

While marijuana has a host of nicknames that all essentially mean the same thing, cannabis and marijuana are not synonymous. Marijuana is made from the seeds, leaves, and flowers of certain cannabis plants. Cannabis refers to a family of plants, and medical marijuana is usually made from a hybrid of cannabis indica and cannabis sativa. Cannabis varieties vary greatly in terms of psychoactive properties and practical uses. The amount of CBD varies in different types of cannabis, as does the amount of THC (more on that later).

But if CBD alone is so great, and even the World Health Organization has given it the green light, why aren’t we all signing up to use it? Probably because legality around CBD use is muddy. Generally, CBD sourced from medical marijuana is legal in states where medical marijuana is legal, and CBD sourced from industrial hemp is legal in states with laws allowing for industrial hemp growth. Still, check your own state’s laws to be sure of what’s legal in your area.

Where CBD is sourced from makes a difference because different cannabis sources will have varying levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. CBD sourced from industrial hemp has extremely low levels of THC, whereas the cannabis plants used to make marijuana have much higher levels (though they vary from strain to strain). THC is what makes cannabis such a hot-button issue.

Photo: Pixabay/gjbmiller
Photo: Pixabay/gjbmiller

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The chemical compound THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, is found in cannabis plants at varying levels and is responsible for most of marijuana’s psychological effects. THC causes the happy feeling and coordination impairment associated with marijuana use. THC may also cause hallucinations, anxiety attacks, and/or short-term memory impairment. Positive effects may include dopamine release, pain relief, nausea prevention and relief, sedation, and even weight loss.

It’s THC that’s mostly responsible for marijuana’s addictive properties—though marijuana is much less addictive than classically addictive drugs such as cocaine or heroin. Some argue that marijuana is not physically addictive at all.

The trouble is that THC and CBD are both found in cannabis, and in the United States, cannabis use is still illegal at the federal level regardless of how much THC or CBD is in a certain strain. Once cannabis is ready for recreational or medical use, it’s usually simply referred to as marijuana (or a host of other more colorful names).

Photo: Pixabay/tdfugere
Photo: Pixabay/tdfugere

Marijuana Use for Diabetes Symptoms

While the health claims of marijuana use for medical purposes vary greatly, there are some clear and consistent benefits associated with its use for those with diabetes.

Marijuana use may help stabilize blood sugar, reduce inflammation, reduce neuropathic pain, improve circulation, and reduce gastrointestinal pain and cramping. Some research suggests that marijuana may reduce the risk of obesity, an important risk-factor for type 2 diabetes. Marijuana may also increase insulin sensitivity and reduce fasting blood glucose. That’s quite an impressive list!

Drawbacks include one of the most famous side-effects of marijuana use: getting the munchies. Consuming large amounts of food can cause blood sugar to rise rapidly, increasing the risk of ketoacidosis. But the bigger concern for diabetics using marijuana is actually low blood sugar. Someone under the influence may not have the mental sharpness to notice when their blood sugar is dropping, or they may associate its symptoms with their drug use instead of falling glucose levels.

Other effects of the drug, like delayed reaction times and impaired concentration and memory, may interfere with good disease management practices, and marijuana could interact negatively with other medications. So it’s not a clear-cut solution—even before we start the discussion about legality.

Photo: Pixabay/herbalhemp
Photo: Pixabay/herbalhemp

Is Marijuana Legal?

Certainly public opinion in the United States regarding cannabis is changing, and marijuana use is extremely popular. 56% of Americans have tried it by the time they are in their 20s.

Cannabis use is still illegal for all purposes under federal law in the U.S. CBD is a derivative of cannabis, but some states have laws that allow for its use. Again, please check your state’s laws before trying CBD.

As far as marijuana in general, most states and the District of Columbia allow its use for medical purposes, and several of those states, as well as D.C., allow recreational use.

Marijuana being legal at a state level but illegal at a federal level is confusing both for those interested in its use and for law enforcement. Who’s in charge? The states or the federal government?

Photo: flickr/Jurassic Blueberries
Photo: flickr/Jurassic Blueberries

In 2013, the U.S. Justice Department said it would not block states from legalizing marijuana, and the then-deputy attorney general, James Cole, release a memo that made it clear that states must prevent marijuana sales to minors and prevent interstate trafficking, but other than that indicated what was interpreted as a “hands off” policy when it came to interfering with a state’s decision on marijuana.

However, in early 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the policy that had discouraged federal prosecution of marijuana crimes. The Justice Department did not clarify if the federal government planned to crackdown on current marijuana dispensaries.

While some have applauded the change, states that have legalized marijuana for recreational use have expressed concerns. In Colorado, marijuana sales have topped a billion dollars a year, and the industry provides thousands of jobs. Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado said, “With no prior notice to Congress, the Justice Department has trampled on the will of the voters in Colorado and other states.”

Photo: flickr/pipedreemz1
Photo: flickr/pipedreemz1

So What Happens Now?

The future of cannabis use in the United States is yet unknown. How cannabis is used, both in the U.S. and around the world, could change drastically one way or the other in the next few years. Here’s what we know:

  • According to the World Health Organization, Cannabidiol (CBD) is non-addictive, non-toxic, and can be used to treat several serious health conditions.
  • Many people believe that Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) may be helpful in the treatment of certain health conditions, but there are, at the minimum, pros and cons to its use (even before legality issues). THC has psychoactive properties and many believe that THC is dangerous and should be illegal in all contexts.
  • Those interested in trying marijuana to treat diabetes symptoms or other health conditions would be wise to talk to their doctor about getting approved for medical marijuana use, check their state’s individual laws, and use a licensed dispensary to fill marijuana prescriptions.
Photo: flickr/Dominic Simpson
Photo: flickr/Dominic Simpson

We hope that, regardless of how the cannabis debate ends, all safe and helpful treatments will be available soon to those dealing with diabetes. Stay healthy, friends!

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