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Marijuana and the Metabolic System

Posted: Sunday, January 12, 2014

With the recent legalization of medical marijuana and casual marijuana use in Colorado, physicians will come across an increase in marijuana use in their patients. We already know that marijuana is associated with increased caloric intake with a lower BMI. There is even a link between its use and lower prevalence of obesity and diabetes. Cannabis sativa has been used for quite some time in relieving pain, improving mood, and to increase appetite. Medical marijuana is now approved to help treat chemo side effects, anorexia in AIDS patients, nausea, and other conditions.

Researchers used data from 4,657 patients in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Participants were categorized as either being current users, past users. There were 579 current users, 1,975 who had used it in the past, and 2,103 who had never used marijuana. They were given a drug-use questionnaire, a physical exam, and provided a fasting blood sample. A chi squared test was used to compare the baseline characteristics for all three groups. Past and current users were found to have 16% lower levels of fasting insulin, lower glucose, 17% lower levels of insulin resistance, BMI, and A1c. Current users even had a smaller waste circumference. The mechanisms behind why this occurs are still unclear. Previous studies show that the cannabinoid type 1 receptor antagonist, rimonabant, was found to improve insulin sensitivity in wild-type rats. Cannabis itself, when given to obese rats, was linked to weight reduction and increased weight of the pancreata, implying beta cell protection.

This study is one of the firsts to show a relationship between marijuana use, glucose, insulin, and insulin resistance. A push for investigating marijuana's therapeutic benefits can help ensure that physicians have the information they need to monitor proper use and prescription of medical marijuana.

Practice Pearls
  • Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit drug in the US with an estimated 17.4 million current users.
  • Despite its association with increased appetite and caloric intake, marijuana use is also associated with lower BMI and prevalence of diabetes.
  • Survey found that current use of marijuana to be associated with lower levels of fasting insulin, lower insulin resistance, and smaller waist circumference.

Source: http://www.diabetesincontrol.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=15697&catid=1&Itemid=17, Healthline News, Sandy Calhoun, May 2013, Penner, E. et al. The Impact of Marijuana Use on Glucose, Insulin, and Insulin Resistance among US Adults. The American Journal of Medicine;126(7):583-589. 2013.

 
 
 
 
 
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