EducationA guide to medicinal cannabis for managing type 1 diabetes

A guide to medicinal cannabis for managing type 1 diabetes

6 min read

Sam North

A guide to medicinal cannabis for managing type 1 diabetes

Type 1 diabetes is a disease that reduces, or even totally stops, the production of insulin. Insulin is a vital hormone that regulates blood glucose levels. Without insulin, blood sugar can’t enter cells and instead builds up in the bloodstream. A high level of blood sugar can cause a number of complications and is responsible for many of the symptoms of diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes need to closely monitor their blood sugar levels and inject insulin daily, and at set times.

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Type 1 diabetes is the less common form of the disease, with around 8% of people with diabetes suffering from 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 may also come down to genetics, with some people 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, the symptoms that come along with type 1 diabetes can be managed with a range of complementary treatments and therapies. While anything but a magic cure, some recent studies have pointed to the potential of medicinal cannabis at helping to reduce the severity of the symptoms of type 1 diabetes. Though research is still in its early stages, the potential link between cannabis and diabetes 1 could provide exciting new therapeutic options for those living with the disease. 

The science behind cannabis and type 1 diabetes

Cannabis is a flowering plant in the family Cannabaceae. Native to Asia, cannabis has been taken for ritualistic, therapeutic, and recreational purposes for millennia, with evidence of its use dating back at least 2500 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 signalling molecules 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 intoxicating ingredient in the drug, binds to these receptors, causing recreational 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 intoxicating effects.

Over recent years, there has been growing research into the effects of 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 type 1 diabetes symptoms

Though medicinal cannabis can’t be administered to directly treat type 1 diabetes, it could potentially help to mitigate many of the disease’s symptoms. 

Research has shown that topical CBD cream may 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 administering medicinal cannabis may 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 essential 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 medicinal cannabis administration for type 1 diabetes

Though using medical cannabis or legal products derived from cannabis can be beneficial for people with diabetes, it does come with a range of (mostly non-severe) side effects.

These include an increased risk of dizziness, dry mouth, headache, drowsiness, nausea, and vomiting. There is also a risk for more serious side effects such as an increased heart rate, low blood pressure and altered mental state. In some people, cannabis administrationmay cause anxiety or even panic attacks, but these side effects are most often related to doses above what is prescribed for medical cannabis patients. 

These risks can be mitigated by using legal products like CBD oil or cream in place of cannabis. These products have very few severe side effects and are generally safe to take with diabetes medication. However, it’s important to consult your doctor before you begin using any complementary therapies.

Legal and regulatory status of cannabis for diabetes type 1

The recreational use of cannabis has been illegal in the UK since 1928. However, the plant was legalised for medical purposes in 2018, and the stigma surrounding medicinal cannabis is slowly but surely melting away.

Conclusion

Though more research is needed to conclusively prove the efficacy of cannabis for diabetes type 1, the current evidence suggests that it may be beneficial in helping to reduce the symptoms associated with the condition. 

It’s essential to bear in mind that cannabis does come with a range of side effects, and so it should only be taken as part of an overall treatment plan under medical supervision. There is no substitute for advice from a doctor that is experienced and registered in prescribing medicinal cannabis, so we strongly recommend consulting a healthcare professional before using cannabis for diabetes type 1.  Whether medicinal cannabis is right for you is something that only you and your doctor can decide - but it’s definitely an option worth exploring. 

Releaf is committed to helping you access the benefits of a medical cannabis service. Our monthly packages are tailored to your cannabis prescription, and we offer specialist consultations for medical cannabis and a unique medical cannabis card for protection.    

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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Authors

Sam North, a seasoned writer with over five years' experience and expertise in medicinal cannabis, brings clarity to complex concepts, focusing on education and informed use.

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.

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