Researchers have drawn a link between marijuana use and developing high blood sugar during middle age, contradicting previous reports that pot smokers have a lower risk of diabetes. While smoking cannabis isn’t thought to be directly associated with full-blown diabetes, smokers were found to have a higher risk for prediabetes, a sort of gray-area where not all the symptoms of diabetes are present but blood sugar levels are abnormally high.
In fact, the term is more of a risk measurement for future cardiovascular disease than anything else, but can also serve as an intervention point to prevent the progression towards diabetes if identified early enough, says Mike Bancks from the University of Minnesota School of Public Health in Minneapolis and lead author of the study.
Marijuana users were formerly thought to have lower chances of diabetes because while smokers tend to eat more food than non-users, they typically had healthier weight and smaller waists, suggesting a lower risk for the disease. Published in Diabetolgia, the research explains that an older study found pot smokers were 30 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. However the new research indicates that these earlier studies may be unreliable, as results can be skewed if people decide to change their marijuana use over time.
The research used two separate analyses to examine the drug’s relationship with high blood sugar levels. One analysis featured 3,034 participants, tracking their health and cannabis use since the mid 1980’s when they were 18 to 30 years old. The participants were then observed to have elevated blood sugar levels into middle age, 25 years later in 2010 and 2011. There were also higher odds of prediabetes amongst those who reported currently using the drug and those who reported using it more than 100 times.
The second analysis tracked 3,151 people from the same source, the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study, focusing on those who didn’t have high blood sugar in 1992 and 1993. Researchers found a 39 percent higher risk of prediabetes during the next 18 years for those who said they used it 100 or more times, compared to the non-smokers.
There may be a few different reasons why this was more connected to elevated blood sugar levels than it was to diabetes, Bancks told Reuters Health. For example, some participants who were eliminated from the analysis because of missing data may have led to a distorted conclusion. Furthmore, Bancks belives marijuana may have a bigger impact on blood sugar levels before diabetes develops, rather than afterwards.
Additonally Dr. Sethu Reddy, chief of the Adult Diabetes Section at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston, notes that another reason may have been because the participants weren’t followed for a long enough period.
“Maybe in the next five to 10 years they’d have more diabetes,” said Reddy, who was not involved in the research.
However these outcomes are not conclusive, and Bancks suggests that because these new results conflict with prior research, additional studies are needed.
“Our results do not align with the previous research on this topic and this point strongly suggests more research is needed on the metabolic health effects of marijuana use,” he said.