Using Marijuana to Manage Diabetes

David Mendosa Health Guide May 29, 2013
  • When I stopped smoking marijuana, I got diabetes instead. Maybe the timing was just a coincidence, but a new study indicates marijuana and diabetes may be connected.


    Between 1972 and 1984 I was a heavy marijuana user. But I wasn’t heavy. In fact, in 1972 under the influence of marijuana I was able for the first time to manage my weight while becoming much more active. Then, I became an editor of a business magazine where I sat on my butt for long working hours every day, stopped using pot, and gained back all the weight I had lost under the influence of that illegal drug.



    I was addicted to marijuana. Stopping was one of the hardest things I ever did, but as my cough got worse over the years I knew that I had to stop to save my health.


    After I was able to stop for good, my weight ballooned up to 300 pounds by 1994 when a doctor told me that I had diabetes. Eventually, first under the influence of a legal drug, Byetta, and then by following a very low-carb diet, I have been able to control my weight. I have kept it down to about 156 pounds and a BMI 19.8 of for several years now.


    With my weight under control I have been able to manage my diabetes without any drugs, legal or illegal. My most recent A1C level was 5.4.


    If I hadn’t stopped using marijuana, a new study in a prestigious medical journal indicates I just might have avoided getting diabetes. This study in in press at The American Journal of Medicine,the official journal of The Association of Professors of Medicine, which is comprised of chairs of departments of internal medicine at more than 125 American medical schools. Written by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, the full-text is free online at “The Impact of Marijuana Use on Glucose, Insulin, and Insulin Resistance among US Adults.”


    The study analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2005 and 2010. Called NHANES for short, this is a continuous survey of the National Center for Health Statistics, which is a part of the U.S. Government’s National Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).


    The researchers were able to compare the health of 579 current marijuana users, 1,975 previous users, and 2,103 who said that they had never used marijuana. They found that current marijuana users had significantly lower levels of fasting insulin levels and were less likely to be insulin resistant than either those who had previously used marijuana and had stopped and those who had never used it. Remarkably, even though using marijuana is associated with a greater caloric intake -- well known to users as the munchies -- the waist circumference of current users was smaller. Likewise, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (the so-called good cholesterol) blood levels were higher in current users.


    These are such controversial findings that the journal not surprisingly published an editorial accompanying the study. But the editorial, “Marijuana for Diabetic Control,” by the journal’s editor-in-chief Joseph S. Alpert, MD, was surprising.


  • I expected that the editorial about such a controversial article would somehow attempt to discredit the study. In fact, it supported it.


    Marijuana is gradually becoming accepted in this country. In the past few years, 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation letting doctors prescribe marijuana for people who have severe and hard to control pain or nausea. Similar legislation is pending in other states. Recently, two states, including Colorado, where I live, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana.


    But even when I am able to legally buy marijuana, I won’t. The side effects of this drug are just too severe for me to deal with again. Besides, I am able to manage my diabetes now in a much safer way, without using any drugs.