EducationWhat you need to know about cannabis and diabetes type 1

What you need to know about cannabis and diabetes type 1

7 min read

Lucy MacKinnon

What you need to know about cannabis and diabetes type 1

Type 1 diabetes is a disease that causes the pancreas to make little or no insulin. Insulin is a hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. Without insulin, blood sugar can’t get into our cells and instead builds up in the bloodstream. Type 1 diabetes can be managed with a range of complementary treatments and therapies. Some recent studies have pointed to the potential of medical cannabis as an effective additional treatment capable of reducing the symptoms of the disease. 


Type 1 diabetes is the less common form of the disease, with around 8% of people with diabetes having type 1. The condition can appear at any point in a person’s life. It’s thought to result from an autoimmune reaction that attacks the cells in the pancreas which make insulin. This may be triggered by a virus or other environmental factors. It can also come down to genetics, with some people being more prone to the disease than others. There’s currently no cure for type 1 diabetes. So, once someone has been diagnosed, they’ll live with the condition for the rest of their life.

As well as insulin, type 1 diabetes can be managed with a range of complementary treatments and therapies. Some recent studies have pointed to the potential of medical cannabis as an effective additional treatment capable of reducing the symptoms of the disease. Though research is still in its early stages, the potential link between cannabis and diabetes 1 could provide exciting new options for those battling the condition. 

Before we continue, it is essential to make clear that medical cannabis should never be seen as a cure to type 1 diabetes, or any other condition. It is proving to be a potentially effective addition to current treatment options. 

The science behind cannabis and diabetes type 1

Cannabis is a flowering plant in the family Cannabaceae. Native to Asia, cannabis has been used for ritualistic, therapeutic, and recreational purposes for millennia, with evidence of its use dating back around 12,000 years.

The reason that cannabis has such a powerful effect on the body is that it interacts with our endocannabinoid system (ECS), the largest receptor system in the human body and the master regulator of homeostasis. The ECS is a huge network of chemical signals and cellular receptors that are spread throughout the brain and body. Discovered in 1988, it’s thought to be responsible for many of our critical bodily functions, including learning and memory, emotional processing, sleep, temperature control, pain relief, inflammatory and immune responses, and appetite.

There are two main endocannabinoid receptors in the ECS:

  • CB1 receptors, which are mostly found in the central nervous system
  • CB2 receptors, which are concentrated in the peripheral nervous system, especially immune cells

When cannabis is ingested or inhaled, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive cannabinoid, binds to these receptors, causing cannabis users to experience a range of reactions including increased appetite, euphoria, and changes in mood.

Cannabis contains a number of other cannabinoids. One of the most notable is called cannabidiol (CBD). This compound also interacts with the ECS, however, it doesn’t cause a ‘high’ or any psychoactive effects.

Over recent years, there has been growing research into the effects of medical cannabis administration on diabetes and its side effects. Some evidence suggests that the interaction between cannabis and the ECS can help to lower blood pressure, decrease arterial inflammation, and improve neuropathy symptoms. What’s more, THCV (another cannabinoid contained in cannabis) and CBD have been shown to improve metabolism and blood glucose in human and animal models of diabetes.

The role of cannabis in managing diabetes type 1 symptoms

Though cannabis can’t be used to treat type 1 diabetes, it could help to mitigate many of the disease’s symptoms. Research has shown that topical CBD cream can provide symptomatic relief for people suffering from diabetic neuropathy in the lower extremities. Another piece of research found that patients who took 20 mg of CBD three times a day for 28 days saw a significant reduction in diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain.

As well as helping to manage neuropathy, cannabis and its derivatives could help to decrease arterial inflammation and improve blood flow. These are both very important for preventing future complications in diabetic patients.

What’s more, research by the American Alliance for Medical Cannabis (AAMC) has suggested that using cannabis can help to:

  • Stabilise blood sugars
  • Reduce arterial inflammation
  • Prevent nerve inflammation
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Keep blood vessels open and improve circulation
  • Relieve muscle cramps and the pain of gastrointestinal (GI) disorders

However, it’s significant to note that research into cannabis and diabetes type 1 is still in its early stages and more clinical trials are needed to confirm these findings.

Risks and side effects of cannabis administration for diabetes type 1

Though taking medical cannabis or legal products derived from cannabis can be beneficial for people with diabetes, smoking the drug recreationally can have some serious side effects. For example, a recent study showed that cannabis use was associated with a twofold increase in the risk of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) among adults with type 1 diabetes.

Smoking cannabis can also have serious side effects, especially if it’s mixed with tobacco. Nicotine increases your blood sugar levels and makes them harder to handle. Smokers also had a 43% and 36% increased risk of developing retinopathy and kidney complications, respectively.

These risks can be mitigated by taking legal products like CBD oil or cream in place of cannabis. Medical cannabis vaporisers are another great alternative to smoking the dried flower, and come with a much-reduced risk profile. 

These products have very few severe side effects and are generally safe to use with diabetes medication. However, it’s important to consult your doctor before you begin using any complementary therapies.

The legal and regulatory status of cannabis for diabetes type 1

The recreational use of cannabis has been in the UK since 1928. However, the plant was legalised for medical purposes in 2018. Medical cannabis is now prescribed in a very small number of cases, though it’s not currently available for people with type 1 diabetes.

If you wish to learn more about medical cannabis, the conditions it is currently prescribed for, and how to access this new form of therapy, feel free to reach out to Releaf at any time.


The recreational use of cannabis is illegal in the UK and could cause harm to people with diabetes. However, early research into the therapeutic benefits of medical cannabis – and cannabis-derived products – for people with the disease are promising. Though more studies are needed, it’s possible that products containing CBD and other cannabinoids could help type 1 diabetics to reduce pain, manage inflammation, and even control glucose levels. This may give people living with type 1 diabetes a new, more natural way to help manage their condition.

Accessing medical cannabis can be challenging due to the stigma surrounding it. However, Releaf makes it simple with our tailored monthly packages, specialist consultations for medical cannabis, and a unique medical cannabis card for protection, all based on your cannabis prescription.

It is important to seek medical advice before starting any new treatments. The patient advisors at Releaf are available to provide expert advice and support. Alternatively, click here to book a consultation with one of our specialist doctors.

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With five years of journalism and healthcare content creation under her belt, Lucy strives to improve medical cannabis awareness and access in the UK by producing high quality, credible content.

Our articles are written by experts and reviewed by medical professionals or compliance specialists. Adhering to stringent sourcing guidelines, we reference peer-reviewed studies and scholarly research. View our editorial policy.

Further reading

The Continental Cannabis Guide: Medical cannabis-friendly countries

For some patients, medical cannabis really is a lifeline and is therefore a necessary component in the holiday of a lifetime. So that you don’t have to choose between your health and a holiday, we’ve put together this guide that explains which countries currently have medical cannabis policies in place.

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Medical cannabis on holiday: The basics

Here at Releaf we understand that holidays should be about relaxation, but travelling with medical cannabis sounds like a stressful voyage. We’re doing what we can to absorb that stress so that you can soak up the sun, and so, we’ve designed a series of articles to cover the subject: medical cannabis on holiday. 

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How long does it take to feel the effects of THC oil?

The time it takes for you to feel the effects of THC depends on the methods of administration as well as your own physiology. Fortunately, there are fast and slow-acting options, as well as ways to take low or high doses in order to facilitate control over the way your body reacts to your medicine.

Editorial Team