As more U.S. states legalize marijuana (cannabis) for medical or personal use — right now, 11 states and the District of Columbia have done both, while another 22 states have comprehensive medical programs — there’s bound to be growing curiosity about this drug among people with diabetes. After all, many people with diabetes have other health conditions, some of which may qualify for medical marijuana under various state programs. And other people may simply want to use marijuana recreationally.
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Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much research on the effects of marijuana use in people with diabetes. But current evidence points to several risks and few benefits when it comes to diabetes control — with marijuana users showing poorer diabetes management and higher HbA1c levels (a measure of long-term blood glucose control).
A new study underscores the risks associated with marijuana in people with type 1 diabetes. Published in the journal Diabetes Care, it looked at the likelihood of developing ketoacidosis — a life-threatening emergency that can develop in people with diabetes when a lack of insulin causes chemicals called ketones to build up in your blood.
Among 932 adults with type 1 diabetes who were included in the study, a marijuana-use questionnaire identified 61 as moderate users. After adjusting for the age of participants (the average age of marijuana users was 31, while for nonusers it was 38) and other factors including HbA1c level, the researchers found that based on clinical records, marijuana users had 2.5 times the risk of developing ketoacidosis.
The researchers speculated that the difference could be caused by changes in appetite from using marijuana, leading some people to eat more without taking the insulin needed to avoid a sharp rise in blood glucose. But more research is needed to get a better understanding of how marijuana effects blood glucose control — and the risk of events like ketoacidosis — in people with diabetes.
A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree in government from Harvard University. He writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.