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CBD for Type 2 Diabetes: What Are the Benefits and Risks?

The trendy complementary treatment is rising in popularity. Here’s what you need to know before you use CBD to manage type 2 diabetes.

Kate Ruder

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You probably don’t have to look farther than your local drugstore or beauty product supplier to know CBD has taken a starring role in everything from sparkling water and gummies to tincture oils and lotions. Some may even say that cannabidiol (CBD) — which, like THC, is a component of the cannabis plant, but doesn’t contain its psychoactive effects — is the “it” ingredient of our age.

You’ve probably also heard that CBD can help lessen stress, anxiety, and pain. “When people are in pain, they have a stress response, which causes an increase in cortisol and an increase in blood sugar,” says Veronica J. Brady, PhD, CDCES, a registered nurse and an assistant professor at the Cizik School of Nursing at the University of Texas in Houston. Relieving pain can help alleviate the stress response and improve blood sugar levels, as well as aid sleep, she says.

If you’re managing type 2 diabetes, it’s natural to be curious about whether CBD might help you manage those symptoms, too, to help stabilize your blood sugar. In fact, the prevalence of cannabis use increased by 340 percent among people with diabetes from 2005 to 2018, according to a study published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence in July 2020, which surveyed people on their use of cannabis (CBD or THC, in any form) in the previous 30 days.

But does it work for treating diabetes? Some healthcare professionals say CBD may have a role to play, but it’s important to understand that the only health condition CBD has proved effective for is epilepsy in kids. The jury is unfortunately still out, owing to the lack of comprehensive research on CBD and type 2 diabetes.

Still, in the aforementioned survey, 78 percent of people used cannabis that was not prescribed by a doctor. “Diabetes patients might still use cannabis for medical reasons, but not have a prescription,” says Omayma Alshaarawy, MBBS, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at Michigan State University in East Lansing, who led the study. Recreational use is another factor. She points to a separate study, published September 2019 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that found that more than 50 percent of people with medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer use cannabis recreationally.

How People With Type 2 Diabetes Are Using CBD

In Nevada, where Dr. Brady used to work as a certified diabetes educator, her patients with type 2 diabetes used CBD for nerve pain. She says patients would use CBD in a tincture or in oils that they rubbed on painful areas, including their feet. Patients could buy CBD at medical marijuana dispensaries, which would offer dosing instructions. “They worried about the impact on their blood sugars,” says Brady.

Ultimately, though, Brady says that her patients reported that CBD reduced their nerve pain and improved their blood sugar. She adds that those people who used CBD oils for nerve pain also reported sleeping better.

Heather Jackson, the founder and board president of Realm of Caring in Colorado Springs, Colorado, a nonprofit that focuses on cannabis research and education, senses an interest in CBD within the diabetes community. “In general, especially if they’re not well controlled, people are looking at cannabinoid therapy as an alternative, and usually as an adjunct option,” says Jackson. Callers have questions about CBD for neuropathy pain, joint pain, gastrointestinal issues, and occasionally blood glucose control, according to a spokesperson for Realm of Caring.

The organization receives thousands of inquiries about cannabis therapies a month. It keeps a registry of these callers, where they live, and their health conditions. Jackson says that people with type 2 diabetes are not a large percentage of the callers, but they currently have 540 people with diabetes in their database.

Jackson says that Realm of Caring does not offer medical advice, and it does not grow or sell cannabis. Instead, it offers education for clients and doctors about cannabis, based on its ever-growing registry of CBD users, their conditions, side effects, and administration regimen. “We are basically educating,” says Jackson. “We want you to talk to your doctor about the information you receive.”

Scientific Studies on CBD and Type 2 Diabetes, and Barriers to Research

Despite interest among people with type 2 diabetes, large, rigorous studies showing how CBD may affect type 2 diabetes are lacking, says Y. Tony Yang, MPH, a doctor of science in health policy and management and a professor at George Washington University School of Nursing in Washington, DC. Specifically absent are randomized controlled trials, which are the gold standard of medical research.

Early research suggests CBD and diabetes are indeed worth further study. For example, a small study published in October 2016 in Diabetes Care in the United Kingdom looked at 62 people with type 2 diabetes and found that CBD did not lower blood glucose. Participants were not on insulin, but some took other diabetes drugs. They were randomly assigned to five different treatment groups for 13 weeks: 100 milligrams (mg) of CBD twice daily; 5 mg of THCV (another chemical in cannabis) twice daily; 5 mg CBD and 5 mg THCV together twice daily; 100 mg CBD and 5 mg of THCV together twice daily; or placebo. In their paper, the authors reported that THCV (but not CBD) significantly improved blood glucose control.

Other CBD research is still evolving. Some CBD and diabetes studies have been done in rats, which leads to findings that don’t always apply to human health. Other studies have looked more generally at the body’s endocannabinoid system, which sends signals about pain, stress, sleep, and other important functions. Still other studies, including one published in the American Journal of Medicine, have looked at marijuana and diabetes, but not CBD specifically.

That there are so few studies of CBD in people with type 2 diabetes has to do with a lack of focus on CBD as an individual component. Historically, cannabinoids (a group of chemicals in the cannabis plant) have been lumped together, including CBD, THC, and more than 100 others. The 1970 U.S. Controlled Substances Act classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 drug with the highest restrictions. Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia allow cannabis for medical use and 11 states allow cannabis for recreational use.

The 2018 Farm Bill removed industrial hemp from the controlled substances list, clearing the way for more production and research of CBD. Meanwhile, growers and manufacturers are better able to isolate CBD, mainly by cultivating industrial hemp that is high in CBD and very low in THC, says Jackson. So, perhaps in the coming years, more research on CBD and diabetes will emerge.

How the FDA Views and Regulates CBD for Disease Treatment

Yet, as evidenced by the July 2020 study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence, people with type 2 diabetes aren’t waiting for further study to hop on the trend. Brady says her patients have been open about using CBD, particularly the younger patients. She says one of her older patients was initially uncomfortable about buying CBD in the same shop that sold marijuana but eventually gave in. Brady adds that many people associate CBD with smoking marijuana, despite their distinctly different effects on the body.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first CBD medication in 2018, for treating childhood epilepsy. Currently, there is no other FDA-approved CBD medication for diabetes or any other condition, according to the FDA. In December 2018, the FDA said it was unlawful under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to sell food or dietary supplements containing CBD. In April 2019, the FDA stated that it would be taking new steps to evaluate cannabis products, and it held a public hearing about cannabis products in May 2019.

“The FDA, for the time being, has focused its limited enforcement resources on removing CBD products that make claims of curing or treating disease, leaving many CBD products for sale,” wrote Pieter Cohen, MD, and Joshua Sharfstein, MD, in a July 2019 perspective in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Cohen is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School in Boston, and Dr. Sharfstein oversees the office of public health practice and training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore.

Precautions for People With Diabetes Looking to Try CBD

For the CBD products already on the market, Jackson says it’s often difficult to know what’s inside. A study published November 2017 in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that only 30 percent of CBD products were accurately labeled, with under- and over-labeling of CBD content, and some products containing unlisted chemicals such as THC.

Vaping liquids were the most commonly mislabeled CBD products in the study. The International Research Center on Cannabis and Health in New York City warns that consumers should not purchase vape products from unregulated and illicit markets. A small investigation by the Associated Press in 2019 showed that some CBD vapes had synthetic marijuana.

Jackson points out that CBD may affect certain cholesterol and blood pressure drugs, and a study published in June 2017 in Cannabis and Cannabinoid Research detailed these interactions. Other side effects of CBD include tiredness, diarrhea, and changes in weight or appetite, the researchers write.

“What you put in your body is really important,” says Jackson, adding that’s especially true for people with major health conditions like diabetes. Jackson speaks from personal experience as a mom finding CBD treatments for her son’s epilepsy. She says consumers should ask manufacturers whether CBD products are free of mold, pesticides, and other toxins.

Realm of Caring, Jackson’s nonprofit, created a reference sheet for evaluating products and manufacturers. It also endorses products that adhere to standards such as those from the American Herbal Products Association and the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations.

“There is little known about cannabis health effects, especially among patients with chronic conditions. Research is growing, but still solid evidence evolves,” says Dr. Alshaarawy. For these reasons, she recommends that patients talk to their doctors so they can discuss the benefits and potential harms of cannabis and monitor their health accordingly.

How to Talk to Your Healthcare Provider About Using CBD for Type 2 Diabetes

Jackson and Brady advise people who are considering CBD for diabetes to ask their providers about the complementary therapy before adding it to their treatment plan. Brady says it’s difficult to find research about CBD and type 2 diabetes, even in her capacity as a diabetes educator. Still, in her experience, if people are looking for a natural way to manage pain, it’s worth a conversation with their healthcare provider. “It’s something that should be talked about, especially if they’re having significant amounts of pain, or really any pain at all associated with their diabetes,” says Brady.

“It’s a reasonable alternative,” says Brady. “As it gains in popularity, there needs to be some information out there about it.

There’s a lack of rigorous research on how CBD may affect type 2 diabetes, but early studies and anecdotal reports suggest it may help manage stress, anxiety, and pain. Learn more about using CBD to control your blood sugar.

CBD For Diabetes: Benefits, Dosage, & Side-Effects

Studies have shown that those taking cannabis on a regular basis are less likely to develop diabetes.

How does this work? Can CBD oil help manage or prevent diabetes?

Article By

Roughly 1 in every 3 people have diabetes or pre-diabetes in the United States today.

One of the most promising solutions put forward in recent years is CBD.

A study done in 2013 noticed a correlation between regular cannabis use and a lower incidence of metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes – despite the users generally having poorer diets than average [4].

Here, we investigate the causes of diabetes, and how CBD can be used to improve the quality of life of someone suffering from this medical condition.

MEDICALLY REVIEWED BY

Updated on March 22, 2021

Table of Contents
  • The Best CBD Oils for Diabetes
  • What Are The Benefits of CBD Oil For Diabetes?
    • 1. May Promote Weight Loss
    • 2. Alleviates Common Side-Effects of Diabetes
    • 3. Supports Insulin Production & Pancreas Health
  • What is Diabetes? Signs, Symptoms, Risks
    • Type-1 Diabetes
    • Type-2 Diabetes
    • What Causes Diabetes?
    • How is Diabetes Treated?
      • Conventional Treatments for Diabetes May Include:
      • Other Treatments
  • How to Use CBD Oil for Diabetes
    • 1. Adding CBD to Other Interventions
    • 2. Recommended Dosage of CBD for Diabetes
  • References
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    The Best CBD Oils for Diabetes

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    What Are The Benefits of CBD Oil For Diabetes?

    We’ll delve deep into this complex and fascinating topic, before we dive in, here are the main benefits of CBD for diabetes:

    • Promotes weight loss by reducing appetite [13]
    • Alleviates side-effects of diabetes (such as neuropathic pain)
    • Protects the liver
    • May reduce insulin resistance [4]
    • Speeds wound healing [10]
    • Protects the insulin-secreting cells in the pancreas [5]

    CBD oil has many benefits regarding diabetes, and there are even a few pharmaceuticals in the pipeline that use synthetic cannabinoids as an active ingredient.

    This is a large and complex topic, but we aim to break it down into easily digestible chunks. We’ll help you understand how CBD oil may be able to improve diabetes symptoms, and why this and other potentially useful cannabinoids should be on the radar for anybody looking to do that.

    1. May Promote Weight Loss

    Obesity is considered one of the main contributing factors for the development of diabetes [2].

    CBD offers direct benefits to fight obesity. It reduces the desire to eat through the reward system in the brain (responsible for habits and addiction), as well as through the endocannabinoid CB1 receptors.

    These receptors are found primarily in the brain and central nervous system and regulate the hormones associated with hunger [3].

    With less hunger, in theory, we eat less food. By helping us eat less, especially refined or overly processed foods, we may be able to start reducing weight and slowing the progression of diabetes.

    2. Alleviates Common Side-Effects of Diabetes

    On top of all the potential benefits CBD oil may offer to the processes driving diabetes, it also offers some unique benefits towards treating the symptoms of the condition. Of course, further research is needed in all these areas to confirm and better standardize how CBD might be used effectively.

    Some examples of symptoms CBD addresses include:

    • Lowers nerve pain [8,12]
    • Reduces anxiety [9]
    • Speeds healing (topically) [10]
    • Curbs appetite for sweet foods [11]

    3. Supports Insulin Production & Pancreas Health

    A recent study involving nearly 4700 patients with diabetes or prediabetes were screened to measure marijuana use and insulin sensitivity. Researchers in this study concluded that “marijuana use was associated with lower levels of fasting insulin” [4].

    The study found that marijuana users had a 16% decrease in insulin resistance.

    This suggests that cannabis makes insulin more effective at doing its job, which is the main cause of diabetes. With insulin working the way it should, we’re better able to manage our blood sugar levels.

    This slows the onset of diabetes and prolongs lifespan.

    Looking closely, researchers discovered that, in animal trials, overweight or obese rats given cannabis over long periods of time had a heavier pancreas [5].

    This suggests that cannabis was able to protect the insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells from damage caused by obesity.

    This is very important when we consider the fact that the main problem with diabetes is damage to the pancreas, which eventually leads to the development of the more severe, type-1 diabetes. Unfortunately, by the time type 1 diabetes is diagnosed, the patient may have already lost up to 50% of their insulin secretory capability.

    What is Diabetes? Signs, Symptoms, Risks

    Before getting into the nitty-gritty about how CBD could help with diabetes, it helps to understand some of the important details about how diabetes works.

    Diabetes is a metabolic condition. It’s a disease involving our ability to process carbohydrates in the body.

    Most of our energy comes from sugar.

    Whenever we eat something, sugars from the foods enter the bloodstream through the digestive tract.

    The cells then need to use this sugar to power activity. Unfortunately, sugar can’t get into the cell without a special escort, known as insulin.

    Insulin is a hormone released by the pancreas, responsible for regulating how much sugar moves from the blood into the cells.

    When we have diabetes, we either don’t have enough insulin to do the job (type-1 diabetes), or the insulin we do have is being ignored by the body (type-2 diabetes). With both types, the results are almost the same — an increased blood sugar profile.

    Our cells begin to starve for energy, while the blood becomes thick with sugar.

    This causes all kinds of problems for the body, especially on the liver, skin, kidneys, and cardiovascular system.

    In essence, diabetes is a very serious disease involving the dysfunctional production of insulin by the pancreas.

    There are two main types of diabetes:

    Type-1 Diabetes

    This form of diabetes is often referred to as juvenile-onset diabetes because it usually starts showing up during childhood or adolescence.

    It involves dysfunctional pancreatic beta cells, which are responsible for producing insulin.

    This type of diabetes will require sufferers to inject themselves with insulin for the rest of their lives because their body can’t produce enough for itself. If they don’t have access to insulin, the imbalance of insulin: glucagon will cause the liver to make too much glucose and ketone acids resulting in a metabolic emergency called Diabetic Ketoacidosis.

    CBD only offers mild support for these patients — not emergency support.

    Type-2 Diabetes

    Type 2 diabetes is often referred to as adult-onset diabetes because the people affected usually manifest it after the age of 40 — however, recently there is greater incidence in younger populations.

    Though there might be a genetic predisposition to it, the actual development of the disease is slow and gradual, caused mainly by poor diet and lifestyle choices.

    Whenever we eat a meal, our digestive system slowly breaks the food down. The resulting nutrients – sugars, proteins, fat, etc. – will be absorbed into the bloodstream.

    This makes us feel energized directly after the meal because we suddenly have a ton of energy available.

    The pancreas then rushes to secrete insulin to move the sugar from the blood to the cells. It does this because we always want to maintain a steady blood sugar level: too much is bad, and too little is bad.

    Unfortunately, if the food we ate was high in simple sugars (like candy or white bread), it gets digested very fast, and insulin will quickly remove most of the sugar in the blood. Too much in fact. Without blood sugar, we feel fatigued and low in energy.

    We often refer to this as a crash after a meal — especially a high-carb one.

    It’s the reason why many people feel dull and low in energy about an hour or two after lunch.

    Over many years, these sudden spikes and crashes in blood glucose levels will train the body to ignore the insulin. It does this in an attempt to maintain blood sugar levels stable.

    We call this stage insulin resistance. It’s the first step towards type-2 diabetes.

    Now we have a problem.

    Sugar levels rise in the blood but decrease inside the cells themselves; after all, insulin is not working properly. The cells then send signals to the brain to eat more food, causing sugar cravings. But no matter how much we eat, we can’t seem to give our cells what they want.

    High blood sugar is dangerous. It can damage our red blood cells, blood vessel linings, kidneys, and lungs.

    If blood sugar spikes too high, too quickly, then a potentially dangerous, dehydrating condition called hyperglycemic hyperosmolar nonketotic syndrome can develop. The body needs to do something else to keep blood sugar levels in check.

    So it turns to the liver.

    The liver is now tasked with converting all this excess sugar into something safer, such as fat, leading to increased weight gain and fat deposits in the liver (fatty liver disease).

    This is the reason for the characteristic “belly fat” many diabetics have. It’s caused by fat deposits forming around the liver and other organs in the abdomen.

    Over time, if left unchecked, type-2 diabetes will gradually worsen, and blood sugar levels will rise to the point where they start to cause damage to the kidneys, lungs, cardiovascular system, and pancreas.

    People with diabetes stand 2-4 times the risk of cardiovascular disease and have a life expectancy of 5-10 years less than non-diabetics. It’s the number one cause of kidney failure, non-traumatic amputations, and blindness in the developed world — and it is the 7th leading cause of death in the U.S. Fortunately, diabetes is very treatable through improved lifestyle changes and medication.

    In fact, late-stage type 2 diabetics will eventually develop type 1 diabetes due to damage to the pancreas. This is why people with late-stage type-2 diabetes need to take insulin shots like a person with type-1 diabetes.

    CBD offers some potent benefits for reducing the impact of type 2 diabetes and is becoming an important therapeutic option for people suffering from this condition.

    What Causes Diabetes?

    So, now that we’ve learned how diabetes works and what the different kinds are, let’s discuss what actually causes it.

    Type-1 diabetes is mainly a genetic condition, but can also be caused by toxic exposure. Some compounds, such as streptozotocin are well-known to kill the beta-cells in the pancreas, causing type-1 diabetes. This compound is used to induce diabetes in mice for research purposes.

    Other compounds such as second-hand smoke and hydrocarbons from car exhausts have also been linked to type-1 diabetes[1]; however, the majority of cases are caused by genetic factors.

    Type-2 diabetes is primarily caused by diets that are high in refined carbohydrates (simple sugars), but low in fiber, fat, and antioxidants.

    The repeated spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels are the ones that eventually lead to insulin resistance, with an increase in cravings which damages metabolic balance in the body even further. This paves the path towards diabetes.

    How is Diabetes Treated?

    There is no cure for either type-1 or type-2 diabetes. However, many experts argue type-2 may be reversed over time with significant lifestyle and diet changes.

    Most modern treatments look at resolving the symptoms, preventing further complications, and holding what we would call hyperglycemia (high blood sugar) at bay by promoting the production or sensitivity of insulin, in order to prevent worsening of the disease and further damage. Type-1 patients will also use insulin to keep their insulin: glucagon ratio in balance to manage ketone acids and blood sugars.

    Because high blood sugar causes most of the damage in the disease, monitoring blood sugar levels, proper nutrition, and exercise will all contribute to improving the negative effects of the condition.

    Conventional Treatments for Diabetes May Include:
    • Mediterranean diet (the most evidence-supported diet)
    • Metformin (improves sensitivity to insulin)
    • Sulfonylureas (promote the release of more insulin)
    • Meglitinides (promote the release of more insulin)
    • Thiazolidinediones (improve sensitivity to insulin)
    • DPP-4 inhibitors (modestly increase insulin levels)
    • GLP-1 receptor agonists (slow the rate of sugar absorption in the gut)
    • SGLT2 inhibitors (stop the kidneys from reabsorbing filtered sugar)
    • Insulin (provides insulin to type 1 and late-stage type 2 diabetics)

    Other Treatments

    Since diabetes is a condition that involves a problem with the balance of our metabolic system, CBD may offer some potentially serious therapeutic benefits to the actual cause of the condition.

    Some examples include:

    • Atkins diet (high fat and protein, low carbohydrates)
    • Modified Atkins diet (similar to Atkins but more focus on high-fat meals)
    • Ketogenic diet (low carb, medium protein, high fat)
    • Chromium supplementation
    • Regular exercise
    • Herbal supplements (cinnamon, ginseng, gymnema, gynostemma)
    • Acupuncture
    • Lifestyle changes (quitting smoking and alcohol)

    All these treatment options are good, and there’s no one treatment for the condition that’s better than the rest. The best treatment plan will use a combination of the above options.

    Recent evidence has suggested another potential treatment option through CBD.

    The use of this compound for diabetes offers some unique benefits to the condition and may go a long way in enhancing the effectiveness of these other treatment options.

    How to Use CBD Oil for Diabetes

    Now that we understand how CBD oil might support people with diabetes, and how promising the advancement of further research could be, let’s talk about how people are using it.

    1. Adding CBD to Other Interventions

    For starters, it’s important to remember that CBD oil is best used in addition to other interventions, especially the ones revolving around changes in diet and lifestyle.

    Anybody with diabetes should make a focused effort toward avoiding refined carbohydrates and increasing the consumption of fats and proteins.

    On top of this, mild to moderate exercise and stress management techniques will go a long way in addressing the causes of diabetes and slowing its progression.

    It’s also important to note that you should never stop taking any medication without first consulting with your doctor. Always take medications as directed, and keep regular track of your blood sugars.

    Diabetes is a complicated problem and there are a lot of factors that need to be considered. A trained medical professional is going to be the best person to speak with regarding your treatment options.

    2. Recommended Dosage of CBD for Diabetes

    The right dose of CBD oil is different for everybody.

    The endocannabinoid system works through is different from one person to the next.

    This can make figuring out the proper dose a difficult process.

    Generally speaking, the dose most commonly used for diabetics is between 2.5 mg and 100 mg of CBD per day.

    This is a large range, so the best way to do it is to start small and build up slowly until you start to get the desired effects.

    Most people will start with 1 or 2 mg equivalents and add 4 mg per day.

    If side effects are noticed (such as fatigue, poor focus or concentration, or headaches) then simply reduce the dose to the last one that didn’t produce side effects. And stay there.

    When managing diabetes with your prescriptions, integrated with taking CBD oil, it’s important to first speak with your doctor. In most cases, the long-term use of CBD is required for the potential changes listed above.

    There's no cure for diabetes, but CBD may help with the side effects. Here's how it works, and how to find the best CBD oils for diabetes.