Diabetes is a chronic medical condition that affects more than 30 million Americans. In the last two decades, the amount of U.S. citizens diagnosed as diabetics has more than doubled. A serious condition, diabetes affects the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar. This can lead to a variety of dangerous complications that affect the central nervous system as well as the heart and kidneys. Most physicians will treat diabetes with a combination of dietary changes and pharmaceutical medications. The problem with medications is that they may not always be successful and are often associated with a variety of negative side effects. Many patients with diabetes prefer a more holistic approach to treatment and symptom management and are turning to medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, as an alternative to prescription medications. Here, we will take a look at diabetes and how medical cannabis can be beneficial in managing its symptoms and potential complications.
1. Understand Diabetes
There are two types of diabetes, known as type 1 and type 2. Type 1 diabetes, previously referred to as juvenile diabetes, is a condition in which the pancreas does not produce the needed amount of insulin. In some cases, no insulin is produced. Type 2 diabetes, in contrast, is a condition that causes the level of glucose in the bloodstream to become too high. People depend upon the hormone insulin to regulate how glucose enters cells and produce energy. Too much or too little insulin can create a myriad of health complications and can even lead to coma or death.
For patients dealing with type 1 diabetes, there can be a wide range of symptoms arising from the lack of insulin. With the body unable to process glucose properly, the glucose begins to back up which leads to an increase in blood sugar levels. One of the results of high blood sugar levels is dehydration due to excessive urination. Another problem caused by high blood sugar is diabetic ketoacidosis, which is when the body, unable to properly utilize glucose for energy, tries to break down fat cells to use to power the body in the place of glucose. This creates chemicals known as ketones. In some cases the sugar and ketones will begin to build up in the patient’s blood. The combination of dehydration and ketoacidosis can become dangerous and even fatal if not promptly treated. Some other symptoms that are common for patients with type 1 diabetes are increased hunger and thirst, dry mouth, constant urination, fatigue, blurry vision, and frequent urinary tract infections.
In type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells are unable to properly respond to insulin and manage energy levels which is referred to as insulin resistance. Though patients with type 2 diabetes are producing insulin, the pancreas continues to create more insulin which continues to raise blood sugar levels. The complications of insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels can over time lead to many negative symptoms such as heart disease, strokes, eye problems, kidney disease, poor blood circulation, and foot problems. The majority of patients diagnosed with diabetes will be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. There are a variety of factors which can increase the likelihood of being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. These include obesity, a history of metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, and a family history of diabetes. Some other risk factors pertain to lifestyle choices and include smoking, little to no exercise, and high stress levels.
2. Current Treatments and their side effects
Though there has been a lot of research into diabetes, there is no known cure. The current available treatments attempt to manage insulin levels through a combination of diet changes and medications. For patients requiring insulin, there are a few types of medications types available: short-acting which takes about 30 minutes to take effect and can last up to 6 hours, rapid-acting which only requires 15 minutes to take effect and also lasts up to 6 hours, intermediate-acting which does not take effect for about 2 hours for can continue to take effect for 12 to 18 hours, and long-acting which can take up to 3 hours to take effect but can last up to 24 hours. It’s possible that doctors will prescribe various types of insulin and patients may need up to four shots a day depending on each individual’s needs. Insulin injections are not without their side effects, however, and these can include hunger, headaches, sweating, difficulty concentrating, tremors, fainting, and seizures.
In some cases, physicians will prescribe medications in the form of injections or pills. The idea of these medications is to stimulate the pancreas into creating more insulin and releasing it into the bloodstream. Other medications also stop glucose production and its release from the liver which in turn allows the body to transfer the glucose into the cells which need more insulin. Yet another type of medication can cause the body’s tissues to become more sensitive to insulin and may also work to block the enzymes in the intestines which break down carbohydrates. The most commonly prescribed medication is Metformin or Biguanides. Unfortunately, these medications have an assortment of unwanted side effects such as kidney problems, dizziness, weight gain, liver disease, diarrhea, and weight gain.
3. How medical cannabis helps
With all of the negative side effects associated with diabetes medication, it’s no wonder that more and more patients are turning to medical cannabis as an alternative. Medical cannabis is known for its anti-inflammatory effects and does not contain the negative side effects associated with pharmaceutical medications. This is particularly important because patients with diabetes are more prone to developing inflammation of the arteries. Medical cannabis is also beneficial due to its neuroprotective properties, helping to shield patients from inflammatory attacks and lower the neuropathic pain that many diabetics experience. In fact, because cannabinoid receptors are found throughout the body as well as in the brain, patients using medical cannabis are able to relieve pain and inflammation as well as treat any anxiety or depression they may be experiencing as a result of their diabetes diagnosis. Medical cannabis researchers have also noted that diabetic patients can expect cannabis to alleviate their inflammation of the arteries, lower blood sugar levels, improve their circulation, lower blood pressure, reduce pain, lower their amount of gastrointestinal cramping, and relieve cramping of the muscles.
Whether a patient is using medical cannabis as a relief from the negative side effects of diabetes medications or if they are using it to relieve the symptoms associated with diabetes such as pain, depression, or anxiety, the medical and therapeutic benefits of cannabis can make a huge difference in someone’s quality of life. However, the choices available for medical cannabis can be confusing and sometimes overwhelming to navigate. With methods of ingestion ranging from oils, edibles, and vaporization, it is important that a patient speak with a qualified medical cannabis practitioner before beginning any medical cannabis protocol. The correct strain, dosage, and method of ingestion are instrumental for the most effective medical cannabis treatment for diabetes.