According to Diabetes Canada, as many as 11 million Canadians are diabetic or prediabetic. Chances are someone you know has diabetes. Or at the very least, you’ve heard stories in the media about what it’s like to be diabetic.
Here’s what you need to know about the condition and how cannabis could help people living with diabetes.
What Is Diabetes?
Simply put, diabetes is a disease where the body has trouble producing and regulating insulin. Insulin is a hormone that controls the amount of sugar, or glucose, in the blood. It also helps turn sugar into energy or store it as fat, allowing blood sugar levels to return to normal. There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 and Type 2, as well as gestational diabetes, which is a temporary condition that affects up to 20% of pregnant women.
Prediabetes is a related condition when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not quite high enough to be considered diabetic. If left unchecked, prediabetes can develop into Type 2 diabetes.
A Quick Overview of Type 1 Diabetes
In someone with Type 1 diabetes, the immune system kills the beta cells in the pancreas that release insulin. As a result, the body releases little or no insulin and instead stores sugar in the blood instead of using it for energy.
Common symptoms of Type 1 diabetes include:
- Increased and constant thirst
- Frequent urination
- Rapid weight loss
- Blurred vision
When left untreated, Type 1 diabetes can cause nerve damage, serious kidney problems, heart disease and diabetic retinopathy—damage to the blood vessels in the eyes. To help regulate the condition, people with Type 1 diabetes rely on meal planning, daily exercise and regular blood sugar level tests.
A Quick Overview of Type 2 Diabetes
In Type 2 diabetes, the body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t use the insulin that’s released in the body. Patients with Type 2 diabetes are prone to increased insulin resistance—when the body’s cells are resistant to insulin coming from the pancreas.
Again, sugar builds up in the blood and the body doesn’t process it for energy. Type 2 diabetes is more common and makes up 90% of all diabetes cases.
Common symptoms of Type 2 diabetes include:
- Dry mouth
- Slow-healing sores
- Increased thirst and hunger, even after eating
People who are obese are at a high risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. Lifestyle changes in nutrition, exercise and weight management along with medication may be effective at regulating insulin levels.
Can Cannabis Help With Diabetes?
The cannabis plant contains active cannabinoids that hold several benefits. The two most well-known cannabinoids, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), each have their own set of effects and healing properties. And in different ratios they may help with the following diabetes symptoms:
- Stabilizing blood sugar levels by indirectly lowering insulin resistance
- Improving circulation and metabolic processes such as digestion
- Decreasing waist circumference—a bigger waist circumference is associated with obesity and a higher risk of diabetes
- Reducing inflammation when kidney complications occur as a result of diabetes
- Protecting against nerve damage and diabetic retinopathy
So, according to the data, cannabis may help treat the symptoms of diabetes and resulting conditions such as nerve damage and inflammation. Lowering insulin resistance by promoting better digestion and weight loss is another major benefit of taking cannabis for diabetes.
On the other hand, marijuana consumption may be associated with prediabetes and can lead to a higher risk of developing diabetes in the future. This is because chronic cannabis consumption could affect the metabolic system and impair insulin creation.
If you want to add cannabis to your overall diabetes treatment plan, talk to your doctor about how it could best fit into your regimen. Though some of the information is positive, marijuana is no substitute for other treatments. Rather, it can be part of a holistic approach to managing the condition. So, in addition to trying cannabis:
- Continue to test your blood sugar levels regularly
- Keep following a healthy eating plan
- Exercise frequently
- Consider medication
Cannabis Strains That Can Help Control Diabetes
Doug’s Varin: This specific strain is known for high levels of tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), a cannabinoid shown to improve fasting insulin levels while also reducing blood sugar levels. This strain provides a burst of energy and is best suited for daytime use—unless you’re a night person and not ready to sleep.
Harlequin: A popular strain that has many medical applications, Harlequin has its place for managing diabetes, too. The high levels of CBD may help reduce cholesterol and improve mood disorders like anxiety and PTSD. Harlequin is also lauded for providing a good sense of relaxation with a mellow head high that’s not too heavy-hitting.
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