U.S. study finds cannabis lowers insulin levels in obese type 2 diabetics

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Cannabis reduces insulin levels in obese and overweight type 2 diabetics, a new study has found.

Obese adults in the U.S. who used marijuana had significantly lower fasting insulin than those who don’t use cannabis, a recent study found. The U.S. study concluded marijuana use is associated with lower fasting insulin levels in obese adults and that using pot as little as four times a month is associated with lower levels. Even adults who smoked cannabis frequently in the past had lower fasting insulin levels.

The study included 129,509 participants between the ages of 18 and 59. Among the participants, 32.7 percent were classified as overweight and 32.6 percent as obese. Diabetes in Control publisher, Steve Freed, says all study participants were type 2 diabetics.

Fasting insulin is a measurement used to assess diabetic sensitivity. A high fasting insulin level is a symptom of insulin resistance leading to type 2 diabetes.

Diabetes Canada advises that cannabis could be deadly for those with type 1 diabetes. Cannabis use has been linked to diabetic ketoacidosis in type 1 diabetes, notes a Diabetes Canada position paper. Diabetic ketoacidosis can lead to coma or death due to high blood sugar levels and excess ketones (acids created when fat is broken down to be used for energy).

Diabetes Canada recommends that people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes should get an individual assessment from their health professional for guidance on cannabis use.

The U.S. study found that the median fasting insulin was higher in adults who never use marijuana compared with current cannabis users (9.83 micro unit/millilitre (μU/mL) vs. 7.70 μU/mL). 

In participants with obesity, the mean fasting insulin in those who use marijuana less than four times a month was 52 percent lower than in people who never use cannabis. Fasting insulin concentrations were also found to be lower with those who consume cannabis more frequently (eight or more times per month), the study notes.

In participants who were previously obese, fasting insulin concentrations in those who were not regular cannabis users, and those who stopped within 12 months prior, did not differ from those who never used pot.

Cannabis use did not impact insulin levels in people who were not obese or overweight, except in adults who formerly used marijuana. Those adults who used marijuana less than four times monthly in the past, but quit between one and 10 years ago, were found to have 37 percent lower fasting insulin than those who never used cannabis.

The study also looked at the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR), a method for assessing insulin resistance from fasting glucose, and found similar lower levels in participants who used pot.

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