The use of medical marijuana has been steadily increasing. Because of this, doctors have been trying to gain a better understanding of its effects on health. This has lead to some interesting research findings of the potential benefits of using medical marijuana in helping to manage symptoms of diabetes.
Some research studies suggest there are benefits of using marijuana to help with diabetes. The effects of cannabis on diabetes are still not fully understood, so you should discuss marijuana use with your doctor.
Managing Blood Sugar
Marijuana may be able to help with managing your blood sugar levels, and it could help to improve insulin resistance with type 2 diabetes.
Studies found that marijuana could help increase insulin sensitivity, and some have associated a lower fasting insulin level compared to those who were not using marijuana recreationally.
Even though some of the research is promising about the benefits of cannabis on blood sugar control, there still isn’t enough research to be clear about its influence.
They have also found a risk for higher hemoglobin A1C test results, a test that measures the average blood glucose levels over the past 3 months. It was associated with swings in blood sugar levels causing more frequent highs and lows.
Marijuana could also help with managing your weight.
A risk factor for developing diabetes is waist circumference, which is used to measure how much extra fat is carried around the abdomen. One research study found recreational marijuana use was associated with smaller waist circumference. This could help to lower the risk of insulin resistance and the chance of developing diabetes.
Marijuana and Weight Gain
Marijuana use may also lead to weight gain in some people because it can increase food cravings. Often these cravings are for foods that are high in carbohydrates and calories.
Managing Peripheral Neuropathy
Peripheral neuropathy is a common complication of uncontrolled diabetes when high blood sugar levels can lead to nerve damage in the arms and legs.
Cannabis could help with managing nerve pain from diabetic peripheral neuropathy.
One study found that marijuana use was associated with short-term relief from pain in patients who were resistant to other treatment options. Cannabis treatment could also help to protect the nerves from damage through its anti-inflammatory properties and help to prevent peripheral neuropathy.
Other Diabetes-Related Diseases
Other common complications of diabetes are increased risk for heart disease and kidney damage. A study found that recreational cannabis use may increase these risks. They reported increased risks for:
- Peripheral artery disease
- Heart attack
- Kidney disease
Diabetic retinopathy—damage to the eyes that can lead to loss of vision—could be helped by cannabis use. An animal study found that cannabis use could be protective against the development of diabetic retinopathy. This reduced risk was likely due to reduced inflammation and oxidative stress. Further research is needed to assess these effects in humans.
Other Forms of Cannabis
Cannabis is available in a variety of forms from an unprocessed version, often called weed, to the oils that can be used to infuse food or beverages. CBD oils are extracted from the cannabis plant. It doesn’t have the strong psychoactive effects that marijuana has and is commonly used for medicinal purposes.
CBD oils and sprays also show potential for being able to help with some of the complications of diabetes. One study found that in some patients who are resistant to other treatments for diabetic nerve pain, using a topical CBD spray to treat pain showed improvements in response to CBD spray treatment compared to the placebo group.
Side Effects of Cannabis
Cannabis can affect your health—both mentally and physically—in a variety of ways.
Possible adverse effects of marijuana use:
- Poor short-term memory and altered judgment while under the influence
- Impaired coordination (poor driving skills and increased risk for injury) when under the influence
- Paranoia and psychosis
- Risk for addiction
Possible health benefits include:
- Reduced pain
- Decrease anxiety
- Improved sleep
Interactions and Warnings
Cannabis could interfere with the effectiveness of your diabetes medications and you should be careful with monitoring your blood sugar levels if you are under the influence of marijuana.
If you’re in an altered mental state because of marijuana, it could make it more difficult for you to manage your diabetes. You could :
- Forget to check your blood sugar levels
- Improperly dose your medications
- Forget to take medications
Have someone with you who is not under the influence of marijuana and has a thorough understanding of how to manage diabetes, so they can help you with checking blood sugar levels and medications.
Marijuana Is Not Legal Everywhere
Not all forms of cannabis are legal in every state, research your state laws to ensure that you are using legal forms of cannabis for your state.
Diabetic ketoacidosis is a life-threatening condition where the body isn’t able to get enough glucose for energy and resorts to using other fuel, leading to the build-up of blood acids or ketones. This is more common in people with type 1 diabetes if they aren’t properly taking their medications but can also affect people with type 2 diabetes.
The symptoms of diabetic ketoacidosis are:
- Excessive thirst and frequent urination
- Nausea and vomiting
- Weakness or fatigue
One study found that recreational cannabis use doubled the risk for diabetic ketoacidosis for people with type one diabetes. This was attributed to worse management of diabetes including increased intake of high carb foods and forgetting to take medications.
A Word From Verywell
If you are considering using cannabis as a way to help manage your diabetes symptoms, talk to your doctor to see how this could affect your medications and know the different risks of how it could interact. If you choose to try cannabis, get a prescription for medical marijuana because there are risks with “street” forms of cannabis, such as not knowing the strength and the possibility of contamination.