Medical marijuana is recommended by doctors for a number of medical conditions ranging from easing the symptoms of glaucoma, to reducing the side effects of cancer treatment, to alleviating symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, aka PTSD.
But is it safe for everyone?
A new study suggests that people with diabetes or those at risk for developing diabetes need to carefully weigh the benefits and potential drawbacks of using marijuana medicinally.
About the Study
The study in question was published in September 2015 in the medical journal Diabetologia. Researchers at the University of Minnesota examined how using marijuana impacted blood sugar levels. The study found that people who began using marijuana when they were young adults were 40 percent more likely to develop pre-diabetes, a condition in which the body is less resistant to insulin, than people who never used it before. People with pre-diabetes generally are more at risk for developing type 2 diabetes later in life; however, the study did not find that marijuana use made people more likely to actually develop type 2 diabetes. To read more about diabetes, click here.
The findings of the University of Minnesota are confusing when viewed alongside the results of a 2013 review conducted at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson. This study found that people who used marijuana had lower blood sugar levels than people who did not and also had smaller waist sizes than those who did not. Based on this study, the researchers concluded that marijuana could potentially lower the risk of type 2 diabetes.
More Research Needed
So does marijuana use raise or lower blood sugar? The answers aren't entirely clear. It's likely that there are other factors that contribute to the effects of marijuana on blood sugar levels that researchers have yet to uncover. The researchers at the University of Minnesota speculated that marijuana may initially raise blood sugar levels to push people toward pre-diabetes but not have a large enough impact to actually make people develop type 2 diabetes. Further study is needed to really understand what marijuana use means for people with or at risk for developing diabetes. See TIME video here for more information.
What to Make of the Data
While you can't draw any definitive conclusions from the University of Minnesota study, its findings do show that it's important for doctors and patients to discuss all of the possible side effects of marijuana use before using the drug for medical treatment. In many cases, the risk of possible pre-diabetes may be greatly offset by the potential benefits of the drug. In others, it may be better not to risk possible increases in blood sugar.