People who regularly smoke cannabis may have a lower risk of developing diabetes, new research suggests.
Marijuana users had significantly lower levels of the hormone insulin – indicating better blood sugar control.
If a link is established, it could pave the way for the development of treatments using the plant’s compound active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.
In the study, published in The American Journal of Medicine, researchers found that those who regularly smoked cannabis had a 16 per cent lower fasting insulin levels than people who had never smoked marijuana.
Those who used the drug were also likely to have a smaller waist circumference – and a large waist circumference is linked to diabetes risk.
Marijuana is commonly used by patients suffering with cancer, multiple sclerosis and other painful conditions.
Medical marijuana is legal in 18 U.S. states, and recent research has suggested that the majority of Americans believe the drug should be legalised.
The research carried out by PewResearch Centre for People and the Press showed that for the first time in 40 years 52 per cent said it should be legalised and 72 per cent saying the crackdown on the drug is not worth the money it costs the government.
In the UK, Sativex, a cannabis-derived mouth spray, has been licensed by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency, but it remains difficult for patients to obtain because many NHS trusts refuse to prescribe it due to its cost.
In the study, researchers analysed data obtained during the National Health and Nutrition Survey between 2005 and 2010.
They studied data from 4,657 patients who completed a drug use questionnaire. Of these, 579 were current marijuana users, 1,975 had used marijuana in the past but were not current users, and 2,103 had never inhaled or ingested marijuana.
HOW DO INSULIN LEVELS AFFECT DIABETES?
Type 2 diabetes develops when the body does not produce enough insulin to maintain normal blood sugar levels, or when the body is unable to use the insulin that is produced effectively – this is known as insulin resistance.
If a person does not produce enough insulin, or is insulin resistant, cells stop absorbing glucose properly meaning that it builds up in the blood.
This results in symptoms such as extreme thirst, frequent urination, fatigue and weight loss.
Type 2 diabetes is much more common that type 1 diabetes, which occurs when the body does not produce any insulin at all.
About 90 per cent of diabetics in the UK have type 2 diabetes and it usually affects people over the age of 40.
Fasting insulin and glucose were measured via blood samples following a nine hour fast, and insulin resistance was calculated.
Current users had 16 per cent lower fasting insulin levels than participants who reported never having used marijuana in their lifetimes.
Lead investigator Murray Mittleman, of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, said that previous studies had found lower rates of obesity and diabetes in marijuana users compared to people who have never used marijuana.
And although people who smoke marijuana generally eat more calories than non-users, two previous studies have also found they have lower body-mass index (BMI), although it is not clear why.
Joseph Alpert, Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, and editor-in-chief of the journal, said: ‘These are remarkable observations that are supported, as the authors note, by basic science experiments that came to similar conclusions.
‘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.’