Why Does Marijuana Prevent Diabetes And Obesity?


Is there nothing the plant cannot do? This isn’t a new story but it’s gotten some new attention recently:

The study looked at more than 4,600 people, 12 percent of whom said they were current marijuana users and 42 percent of whom said they had used in the past. Previous research had shown that marijuana users had a lower prevalence for diabetes and obesity, but this was the first study where scientists tried to determine if there was a link between insulin and glucose levels and marijuana usage, Yahoo Shine reported.

There is:

The study concludes: “with the recent trends in legalization of marijuana in the United States, it is likely that physicians will increasingly encounter patients who use marijuana and should therefore be aware of the effects it can have on common disease processes, such as diabetes mellitus. We found that current marijuana use is associated with lower levels of fasting insulin, lower HOMA-IR and smaller waist circumference.”

What we still don’t quite know is why. It works against the hoary stereotype of the munchies, but the data are clear. One possibility:

Some research finds that highly religious people are less likely to take drugs, but more likely to be obese — perhaps because they’re substituting one compulsive behavior (overeating) for the other (smoking marijuana). So, some of the obese people in the national surveys may be religious folk, who might otherwise be heavy marijuana smokers, but are eating too much instead. That could make it look like marijuana is slimming.

Also consider that one of the most popular uses of medical marijuana is to stimulate appetite in people with cancer, AIDS or other diseases. Such patients are significantly less likely to be obese than the general population — so in this case, weight loss would precede or prompt the marijuana smoking.

I’m not buying either argument. Smoking weed is not as compulsive as over-eating. Sugar can have a far stronger grip on a person’s way of life than THC. One possibility is that there is something in marijuana that helps regulate insulin better: “a relationship between cannabinoids and peripheral metabolic processes.” But Prohibition makes it extremely hard to do the research to see if we can make real in-roads against heart disease, diabetes and obesity. Legalizing the plant for research might, after all, cause someone somewhere to experience pleasure – and we know that cannot be countenanced.

Another theory might be that people substitute pot for alcohol. And the more we encourage the move from a highly fattening recreational drug to a far more healthy one, the better. Hence the liquor companies’ strenuous opposition to the end of Prohibition (historical ironies aside).

(Photo: Getty Images.)