Marijuana’s Potential Role in Preventing Obesity and Diabetes

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Looking for a way to potentially decrease your chances of developing obesity or diabetes? You’re in luck. According to a study conducted by the American Journal of Medicine lead by Harvard Medical School’s Associate Professor Murray Mittleman, marijuana consumers are more likely to have a lower body mass index and are less likely to suffer from diabetes and obesity. Generally, pot consumers seem to metabolize carbohydrates better than non-users, suggests Mittleman, resulting in less resistance to the insulin that their bodies produce, which may help control blood sugar levels in the body.

Research participants in the study were selected from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2005 to 2010. More than 4,600 men and women were included in the study, in which 12 percent were current users, and 48 percent had used the cannabis at least once. In order to account for other factors that could influence the risk of developing diabetes and obesity, the authors controlled for factors like age, alcohol and tobacco use, income level, physical activity, and sex.

Results showed that current marijuana consumers had 16 percent lower fasting insulin levels than both former users and non-users. It was also found that participants who smoked on a regular basis had higher levels of high-density Lipoprotein (the healthy type of cholesterol that can prevent heart disease) and had waistlines that were an average of one and a half inches smaller than both former users and non-users.

Since it is still unclear what the explanation for these findings are, researchers have turned to cannabinoid brain receptors to study its role in metabolism and appetite to better understand what makes the elements in cannabis so special. One way to do this would be to look at the diet drug that has the opposite effect that marijuana has on the brain known as Rimonabant. Rather than activating cannabinoid receptors, Rimonabant blocks the cannabinoid receptors and keeps cannabinoids from activating it. Although Rimonabant affects cannabinoid receptors in the opposite way that THC does, it still produces substantial drops in fasting insulin levels which increases weight loss.

So how could a substance that has the opposite effect on the same receptors as marijuana lead to the same result of weight loss? There a few possible explanations. One might be that another compound besides THC, such as cannabidiol (which affects cannabinoid receptors in a different way than THC does) is what is acting against weight gain and diabetes. Another factor could be that the individual level of tolerance to cannabis plays a role in developing diabetes and obesity. Regularly smokers generally have receptors that are less sensitive. Less sensitive receptors tend to become less active which plays a role in the reduced risks of developing diabetes and obesity because inactive receptors would not activate the cannabis-like molecule which is correlated with being overweight. Cannabis may cause over-eating in the first stage of use but over time, the cannabinoid receptors lose their sensitivity which may prevent obesity in the long run.

But it may just be that many people consume marijuana to help relax rather than drinking alcohol, so maybe it’s the fact that there are simply less calories in a bag of Cheetos than in a bottle of Chardonnay. . .

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