Young people who use a lot of weed are at increased risk of developing the slightly elevated blood sugars associated with prediabetes, a new study finds. But strangely, these youths are at no greater risk of acquiring the diabetes that often follows.
The study was published in September in the medical journal Diabetologia. It examined coronary health data from 3,000 people at ages 32 and 50, collected from the annual Coronary Artery Risk Development in Youth Adults (CARDIA) study. The authors concluded that young adults who have used weed more than 100 times are 40 percent more likely than non-tokers to develop prediabetes by the time they reach middle age.
“We tried to capture . . . marijuana use in young adulthood, when you would assume it would be the highest” and then look for signs of prediabetes or diabetes, said Michael P. Banks of the University of Minnesota School of Public Health. “It is unclear how marijuana use could place an individual at increased risk for prediabetes, yet not diabetes.”
A couple of potential explanations
There are at least a couple of possibilities, researchers said. On the one hand, it’s possible pot drives up blood sugar levels while in the prediabetic stage but not any further. On the other hand, there could be unaccounted variables that explain both the elevated sugar levels and the heavy marijuana use – for example, genes that predispose people to prediabetes might also predispose them to using intoxicating substances more than most other people.
More research is needed before enough is known about how marijuana and diabetes interact, Banks and other researchers said. In fact, several other studies have found evidence suggesting pot can be useful in treating and even preventing some types of diabetes.
Type 1 diabetes is a relatively rare autoimmune disease, usually contracted during childhood and treated almost exclusively with insulin injections. Type 2, the much more common variety, is usually caused by obesity or poor health and has a wide range of medical treatments.
Prediabetes is only a concern in type 2 diabetics, since type 1 typically strikes early in life and develops too suddenly for any kind of medical intervention. With type 2, detecting early signs of blood sugar elevation is critical to prevention and treatment, so doctors often look for signs of prediabetes in middle-aged adults.
Marijuana use leads to reduced weight
Research released last year shows regular marijuana use leads to lower weights and slimmer waistlines, even accounting for the munchies. This could be helpful in preventing the obesity that causes type 2 diabetes, and could also help type 1 diabetics avoid developing type 2 later in life. The same research showed that weed also lowers insulin levels and insulin resistance in the body, both important components of type 2 diabetes.
The new study on cannabis and diabetes covered a 25-year time span. Among other results, it concluded that heavy weed smokers are more likely to be men (62 percent), more likely to smoke cigarettes (39 percent), and more likely to consume more than one alcoholic drink every day (31 percent). Hard drug use was also more likely among potheads, with 40 percent using powder cocaine, 34 percent using crack cocaine, 30 percent using amphetamines, and 6 percent using heroin.