Cannabis ‘can delay onset of diabetes’

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  • Debbie Jones, of Bermuda Diabetes Association

    Debbie Jones, of Bermuda Diabetes Association


Pharmacist and university lecturer Dr Marcia Williams made a presentation highlighting studies that suggest cannabis can reduce the risk of contracting diabetes.

Dr Williams, who was invited to the Island to give a presentation at the Bermuda College by the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association during Pharmacy Week, is a lecturer at the University of Technology in Jamaica and holds a PhD in Pharmaceutics from Queen’s University in Belfast.

During her presentation, titled Cannabis Sativa — Recent Developments and Implications, she focused on a joint study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Centre in Boston. While it was published in 2013, it was not publicly reported on in Bermuda, which has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the world.

Legislation was passed at the end of last year allowing the use of cannabis-derived medicines but not cannabis itself.

Diabetes mellitus is a group of autoimmune diseases characterised by defects in insulin secretion resulting in abnormally high concentrations of glucose in the blood. It can eventually lead to blindness, kidney failure, nerve damage, hardening of the arteries and death.

Those diagnosed with type 1 diabetes can not produce pancreatic insulin while those with type 2 diabetes, which can be controlled by diet, produces inadequate amounts of insulin.

The researchers in the study assessed the relationship between marijuana use and fasting insulin, glucose, and insulin resistance in a sample of 4,657 male subjects. They concluded that those who reported using marijuana over the past month had lower levels of fasting insulin and insulin resistance, as well as smaller waist circumference and higher levels of HDL-C high-density lipoprotein or “good” cholesterol.

The report said: “These associations were attenuated among those who reported using marijuana at least once, but not in the past 30 days, suggesting that the impact of marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance exists during periods of recent use.”

The results of the study were published in the American Journal of Medicine which reported: “These are indeed 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. I would like to call on the National Institutes of Health and the Division of Extramural Activities to collaborate in developing policies to implement solid scientific investigations that would lead to information assisting physicians in the proper use and prescription of THC in its synthetic or herbal form.”

Dr Williams told The Royal Gazette: “They found that users did not develop diabetes and that it can delay the onset of the disease. One effect is to lower sugar levels. The studies that have been done have shown that it slows the effects of diabetes and the complications you get with it — the neuropathy — diabetes effects your nerves so you get that tingling feeling and sometimes you don’t have any feeling in your extremities.

“This is a study that I am planning to reproduce in Jamaica and see if it correlates with what is happening in the Caribbean.”

Dr Williams went as far as to say that Bermuda should consider changing the law to allow for the use of medical marijuana.

“The direction for Bermuda is probably to allow persons to have medical use with standardised products. It has to be approved and from a reputable company that has shown it says what it says it does and contains what it is said to contain.”

Debbie Jones, of the Bermuda Diabetes Association, said: “It is becoming recognised that marijuana appears to have some real metabolic benefits in respect of diabetes.”

Referring to those in the study who used marijuana, she continued: “That subgroup had better fasting blood glucose levels, lowered waist circumference and improvement in insulin resistance. Current marijuana use in these subjects saw 16 per cent lower fasting insulin levels and 17 per cent lower HOMA-IR (Insulin resistance).

“Marijuana affects areas of the brain called the cannabinoid receptors. These receptors play a role in appetite and metabolism.

“A drug called rimonabant was developed to affect these same receptors but in a slightly different way than marijuana. Rimonabant was effective in lowering weight and reducing blood glucose levels.

“However, rimonabant had psychiatric side effects and was removed from the market. It actually had never been approved for the US market.

“So researchers at Harvard who were involved in the study published in the AJM concluded that marijuana has an intriguing role to play and suggested more research be done on its beneficial effects in treating and preventing diabetes.”

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Published Nov 2, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated Nov 2, 2015 at 7:55 am)

Cannabis ‘can delay onset of diabetes’

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