Is ganja the cure for diabetes?
In ninety per cent of diabetes worldwide, the underlying cause is related to the body's resistance to the effect of insulin, which normally acts to maintain steady blood-sugar levels.
A five-year study reported in 2013, wherein some 5,000 participants were observed, the users of ganja had 17 per cent lower levels of resistance to insulin, as well as 16 per cent had lower levels of insulin circulating in the blood.
Further, the study found that users of ganja had significantly lower levels of blood sugar compared to non-users.
This study, reported in the American Journal of Medicine, supports the finding that by reducing the resistance to insulin, ganja use could, indeed, prevent the development of diabetes.
It is now well accepted that overweight, especially that associated with large waist circumference, is both an aggravator and cause of diabetes.
A 2005 study on young adults found that regular users of ganja had smaller waist circumferences and decreased levels of obesity, and this finding was supported by the 2013 study referenced earlier.
The mechanism of action has not been fully worked out, but a study in obese rats revealed that ganja use appeared to protect the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. These beta-cells, as they are called, were demonstrated to increase in size and retained their insulin-secreting function.
It is the loss of beta-cells and their function that are the fundamental cause of the development of diabetes, hence these findings are of tremendous importance as the effect of ganja on diabetes continues to be explored.
GANJA AND THE NERVE PAIN IN DIABETES
Within 10-15 years of having diabetes, some 85 per cent of diabetic persons will have nerve damage of one type or another, and the most severe form causes disabling pain. This pain is difficult to treat and gradually improves with meticulous control of the blood-sugar levels.
Studies on rats reveal improvement in the pain of diabetic neuropathy while varying results are being shown in humans. The extract from ganja, cannabidiol (CBD), seems to be the main ingredient likely to alleviate the pain, and this approach is now under investigation.
CBD significantly reduces chemicals in the blood, known as oxidants, which damage cells throughout the body. It is this action which it is believed will allow ganja to alleviate a variety of problems caused by diabetes, as much of the complications of diabetes are being shown to be caused or aggravated by accumulation in the body of these oxidants.
The upcoming conference on Diabetes and Ganja will give several reports of studies on the effects of ganja on the blood-sugar levels, the overweight and the alleviation of symptoms, especially the pain from damaged nerves.
The conference is being held from April 28-30, at the Hyatt Hotel in Rose Hall, St James, and is being hosted by the University Diabetes Outreach Programme, which comprises the University of the West Indies; Northern Caribbean University; University of Technology, Jamaica; and the Diabetes Association of Jamaica.
To find out more check www.udop.org.jm or call 977-1749.
- Professor Errol Morrison is Honorary Life President of the Diabetes Association of Jamaica. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org