3 Facts About Cannabis, Obesity, and Diabetes

Published on December 12, 2013 · Last updated July 28, 2020

When we picture the stereotypical cannabis consumer, we don’t tend to picture health, fitness, and a trim waistline. Yet, a number of new studies are finding that cannabis users are less likely to be obese—seemingly regardless of how much Domino’s pizza you order while marathon-watching Cosmos.

Before you get too excited, consuming cannabis probably isn’t the best weight loss plan. However, new studies are finding that cannabis may be key to controlling diabetes. We’ve known for a decade that Type 2 diabetes and obesity go hand in hand, and now multiple studies have found a correlation between cannabis, weight control, and potential diabetes treatments.

Given that an estimated 25.8 million people have diabetes in the United States, and another 79 million people are thought to be pre-diabetic, we thought we’d give patients the low-down on the current conversations surrounding this miracle plant and your health.

Here are three things you should know about cannabis, obesity, and diabetes:

Cannabis Consumers Weigh Less

marijuana users less likely to be overweight

An examination of two studies published in the American Journal of Epidemiology has found that, on average, cannabis consumers are less likely to be overweight. While it may be hard to believe, people who consume cannabis at least three times a week have cut their chances of being obese by one third.

In fact, the prevalence of obesity was significantly lower in cannabis consumers than in non-consumers. For example, the first study reviewed in the journal found that cannabis consumers had a 16.1% obesity rate compared to 22.0% in non-consumers. The second study findings were 17.2% vs. 25.3%.

Cannabis Affects the Way You Metabolize Carbohydrates

marijuana and metabolizing carbohydrates

Last May, CNN discussed the recent developments of cannabis and diabetes research. In his discussion of the studies, associate professor at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Murray Mittleman, told reporters that “current users of marijuana appeared to have a better carbohydrate metabolism than nonusers.”

This metabolic boost has something to do with the way cannabinoids (the compounds in cannabis that bind to special receptors in your body) interact with insulin. While much more research needs to be done to fully understand this relationship, Mittleman articulated that in cannabis consumers, “fasting insulin levels were lower, and they appeared to be less resistant to the insulin produced by their body to maintain a normal blood-sugar level.”

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Cannabis-Based Medicines are on Their Way

cannabis-based medications on the way

GW Pharmaceuticals, an England-based big pharma company, is hoping to use cannabis to develop a drug that will eliminate insulin injections for diabetes patients. GW Pharmaceuticals has already created an oral spray, Sativex, as a treatment for muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis. Sativex is the only prescription medication on the market that is cannabis-based. Sativex has already been approved in over 20 countries.

GW is currently working on another cannabis-based drug, utilizing canabidiol (CBD) and the less-researched tetrahydrocannabivarin-9 (THCV). This new drug has shown promise in lab trials, lowering test patients’ blood-sugar levels between meals and also improved insulin production. 

While GW’s diabetes research is still far from complete, all of these findings seem to hint towards a more hopeful future for diabetes patients.

Photo credits: brianjmatis; chrisphoto;27147 via photopincc;

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Anna Wilcox
Anna Wilcox
Anna is a graduate from the University of Puget Sound, where she studied International Political Economy and English Literature.
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