Although data has existed for some time that shows that obesity and diabetes rates are lower for marijuana users than for people who do not use cannabis, this has not been investigated until this study.
Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2005-2010, data from 4657 adults were analysed to examine the difference, if any, between the metabolic health of marijuana users and those who did not take the drug. The results were interesting: they showed that people who were currently using marijuana had lower fasting insulin levels and smaller waist sizes. The dose did not appear to matter.
Here is the full scientific article if you wish to download it.
A fasting insulin level gives a good indication of the body’s sensitivity to glucose and insulin. Generally, lower levels are deemed healthier as it means the body is not overproducing insulin to cope with excess sugar. A dysregulated or disrupted insulin level can have serious health consequences, and type 2 diabetes is one of the world’s fastest growing killers and causes of disease.
In this study, it was found that fasting insulin levels were 16% lower for current marijuana users than for the people who did not take the drug, even accounting for other factors that could be involved. This strongly suggests that marijuana, or its constituent cannabinoids, can have a positive effect on metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
Interestingly, the amount a person was taking did not seem to affect the level of sensitivity. Although the mechanism is not discussed here, it is reasonable to conclude that it is through the endocannabinoid system that this effect is mediated.
The implications for therapy could be significant. Treating diabetes is one of the biggest costs to Western societies and many of the drugs are unsafe in the long-term. So far, few to none use the endocannabinoid system. There is substantial scope for clinical investigation
As well as having a positive effect on insulin sensitivity, marijuana use seems to mediate weight loss. This reinforces the findings of earlier studies which had related marijuana use to lower weight and diabetes rates. How this happens remains unknown, although the endocannabinoid system is known to be a regulator of some metabolic processes.
Weight and insulin sensitivity are two of the most complex systems in the body, with many different signalling pathways regulating and mediating the delicate balance they strike. This makes it hard to investigate.
It should be strongly stressed at this time that this is preclinical data. It is a simple statistical analysis of a relatively small group of individuals. Only 597 people in the study had actually taken marijuana, it is not a sample that will be very representative.
Furthermore, how marijuana reduces weight and insulin resistance is not understood. It could be that the effects are due to a long-term health risk that has not been identified. For this reason, it cannot be recommended at this time to take marijuana for weight loss and insulin sensitivity.
This small study helps to establish the role of the endocannabinoid system in metabolism and insulin processes. It establishes a clear link between weight loss, insulin sensitivity, and using marijuana, but does not go so far as to explain them.