The legalization of recreational marijuana has dominated the news, recently, but medical marijuana research continues to advance apace. Earlier this year, the FDA approved the first prescription drug derived from cannabis to treat epilepsy. This approval marks a watershed moment for legitimizing the active ingredients of medical marijuana as a viable treatment for diseases, even though marijuana advocates have been promoting myriad treatment possibilities for decades.
One of the most promising—and pressing—areas of research has to do with the effects of medical marijuana on people with diabetes. Millions of people suffering from the disease are looking for relief from both the symptoms and the high costs healthcare associated with treating the disease.
The diabetes epidemic and the need for change
Diabetes is one of the most prevalent, and hard to treat, diseases today. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 100 million U.S. adults are now living with diabetes or prediabetes. Worldwide, it is estimated that 8.5% of adults have diabetes, up from 4.7% in 1980. Besides contributing to early deaths, diabetes is also a “major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke, and lower limb amputation.”
The disease not only has a profound effect on the people diagnosed with it. Increasingly, the costs of treating the disease are placing a strain on individuals and the U.S. healthcare system. According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2017 the total estimated cost of diagnosed diabetes was $327 billion–$90 billion of which was attributed to reduced productivity. A staggering 1 in 4 health care dollars in the U.S. were spent on people diagnosed with diabetes.
Diabetes is deadly, debilitating, and costly. There is a dire need for solutions to help prevent the disease and treat the myriad symptoms without the inflated costs associated with the U.S. healthcare and pharmaceutical industries.
Diabetes is a complicated disease, and the causes of both Type 1 and Type 2are not well understood. Though the causes are murky, how the disease affects the body is well known. Both forms of the disease stem from irregularities with the body’s ability to produce and regulate insulin—a hormone created by the pancreas that allows your body to process sugar. As the disease progresses, many people may need to supplement their insulin or go on expensive insulin replacement therapy.
For people with diabetes, it is critical to manage blood-glucose levels and manage the associated symptoms of the disease to avoid the worst outcomes, including vision loss, kidney damage, and limb amputations.
For the most part, research investigating the relationship between marijuana use and diabetes has shown promising results, but a lack of large-scale testing showing definitive correlations between diabetes treatment and marijuana still needs to be undertaken.
Of the studies conducted, they fall into two categories: prevention and treatment. The correlation between marijuana and diabetes prevention is largely inconclusive. A 2012 study published in BMJ Open found a 58% reduced risk of developing diabetes associated with marijuana use. A larger 2016 study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research found no correlation between cannabis use and diabetes.
However, according to The Diabetes Council, the correlation between marijuana and the treatment of the symptoms of Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, as well as pre-diabetes, may lie in anti-inflammatory capabilities of cannabinoids. According to cannabisMD.com, research that has been conducted has implied that the use of cannabis may help with stabilizing blood sugars, preventing nerve inflammation, lowering blood pressure over time, keeping blood vessels opened and improving circulation. Research has also found that cannabinoids may be more effective than existing diabetes medication.
For people with Type 1 diabetes, The Diabetes Council research has found that CBD can reduce the occurrence and delay the onset of the disease. Furthermore, the THC enzyme has been found to suppress the autoimmune response of the disease, reducing the amount of insulin needed during treatment. People suffering from Type 2 diabetes that use CBD may fix an endocannabinoid imbalance that makes it harder for people to lose weight, which is an important step in treating Type 2. And, CBD may also help reduce insulin resistance, the crucial mechanism that causes the disease to progress.
- A “neuroprotective” effect that can reduce nerve pain
- “Anti-spasmodic agents” that can relieve GI cramping and pain
- A “vasodilator” effect that can improve circulation
- Calming of diabetic “restless leg syndrome” that can help people sleep better
Marijuana should not be seen as a cure-all, but it does offer a potentially safer—and less expensive—way to treat and manage the disease. The anecdotal success of marijuana as a treatment for diabetes and the promising initial scientific findings certainly warrants further, and more serious study into the correlation.
Changing the lives of diabetics with CBD products
Leading the charge in creating cannabis-based solutions for people with diabetes is Phoenix Life Sciences International (PLSI), an adaptive healthcare solutions company looking to create a global platform for the reintroduction of plant-based pharmaceuticals, including medical cannabis products into the mainstream of healthcare. PLSI is researching new products to target and treat diabetes, pain, cancers, gastrointestinal, autoimmune, neurological, and sleep disorders.
I met with PSLI CEO and founder, Martin Tindall, at last month’s MJ Biz Con. the struggle to treat and cure diabetes is personal, as his wife and much of her family suffer from diabetes. Tindall had seen the effects of CBD and THC on his own brother-in-law’s blood sugar levels, which led him to develop an FDA-approved medication for treating diabetes.
“The opportunity to treat diabetes with cannabis allows us to develop ‘progressive pharma’ solutions,” Tindall told me. Unlike cancer being treated with CBD with longer cycles, diabetes is the type of disease conducive to consistent testing as blood levels can be tested every day, Tindall explained.
In this charter, PLSI named Col. Philip Blair, M.D. as the Diabetes Director of Medical Advisory Council. Dr. Blair, a graduate from West Point and the University of Miami School of Medicine, has been studying, treating, and lecturing about the body’s natural endocannabinoid system and the medicine behind cannabis since 2014.
On top of naming Dr. Blair as Diabetes Director, PLSI has recently received clearance to import its new cannabis diabetes drug into the Republic of Vanuatu, a small South Pacific island nation, where 13 percent of its 265,000 residents suffer from diabetes. Like the U.S., the Republic of Vanuatu’s national healthcare system is overburdened by the costs of treating the disease.
In the end, the success of cannabis as a treatment for diabetes may not lay in the efficacy of the plant alone. Medical acceptance and use of treatments all comes down to the money in the end. “If you can save the insurer money, it works everywhere else,” Tindall concluded.