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Marijuana use may improve insulin resistance among those with diabetes

Photo: iStockphoto.comMarijuana (Cannabis sativa) has been used for centuries to relieve pain, improve mood, and increase appetite. A synthetic form of its active ingredient, tetrahydrocannabinol, has already been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat the side effects of chemotherapy, AIDS-induced anorexia, nausea, and other medical conditions. With the recent legalization in two states of recreational marijuana use, and the legalization of marijuana for medical use in 19 states and the District of Columbia, physicians will likely encounter new therapeutic uses among their patient populations.

According to a study in the July issue of The American Journal of Medicine, one such use may be for patients with diabetes. According to HMS investigators at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, the use of marijuana may help such patients better control their disease.

A multicenter research team led by Beth Israel Deaconess scientists analyzed data from more than 4,500 patients who had participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, conducted between 2005 and 2010. The data included fasting blood levels of insulin and glucose and insulin-resistance measures, calculated using the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance (HOMA-IR).

“Previous epidemiologic studies have found lower prevalence rates of obesity and diabetes mellitus in marijuana users compared to people who have never used marijuana. But ours is the first study to investigate the relationship between marijuana use and fasting insulin, glucose, and insulin resistance,” says lead investigator Murray Mittleman, an HMS associate professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess.

Participants who reported using marijuana in the past month had 16 percent lower levels of fasting insulin, 17 percent lower HOMA-IR measures, and higher levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol than participants who reported never having used marijuana. These associations were weaker among those who reported using marijuana at least once, but not in the past 30 days, suggesting that the impact of marijuana use on insulin and insulin resistance is temporary.

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