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Marijuana use can lead to prediabetes

Researchers have found that people who used large amounts of marijuana during young adulthood are 40 percent more likely to develop prediabetes as middle-age adults than those who had never tried the drug.

Anjali Singh Deswal, Nature World Report, Sep 15, 2015

According to the new study, risk of developing prediabetes can get a boost with marijuana use. Blood sugar levels are abnormally high but not high enough to warrant a diagnosis with type 2 diabetes in this condition.

According to the study, which was published on September 13 in the journal Diabetologia, however, marijuana use was not linked to an increased risk of having type 2 diabetes.

Marijuana (Cannabis sativa) has been used for centuries to relieve pain, improve mood, and increase appetite. Outlawed in the United States in 1937 and further restricted under the Controlled Substances Act by the Nixon Administration, marijuana use has continued to increase. There are an estimated 17.4 million current users of marijuana in the United States. Approximately 4.6 million Americans smoke marijuana daily or almost daily. With the recent legalization of recreational marijuana in Washington and Colorado and the legalization of medical marijuana in 19 states and the District of Columbia, US public opinion has moved toward less stringent laws.

Previous studies looking at marijuana use had found that users have lower rates of diabetes compared with nonusers, said Michael Bancks, a Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota and lead author of the study. But in those studies, both marijuana use and diabetes were assessed at the time, meaning it was unclear whether people were using the drug before they developed diabetes, or afterward, he said.

"We felt we could address the potential limitations of previous research and add new information to our understanding of the relationship between marijuana use and subsequent metabolic health," Bancks told Live Science.

The results of the new study, however, contradict the results of previous studies that found that using marijuana may reduce the risk of developing diabetes, he said.

In addition, "it's unclear how marijuana use could place an individual at increased risk for prediabetes, yet not diabetes," the researchers wrote.

There were many reasons given by researchers for this observation. It's possible that people who were more likely to develop diabetes were left out of the study, because in order to be included, people had to be free of diabetes at the start of the follow-up period, the researchers wrote. It is also possible that marijuana may have a larger impact on blood sugar levels in the prediabetes range than the diabetes range, the researchers wrote.

Bancks said more research is needed to study the possible link, adding that researchers should look at different groups of people, how marijuana is consumed and the amount consumed, he said.

There was another earlier study stating that current marijuana users had significantly lower fasting insulin, were less likely to be insulin resistant (a pre-diabetic state), and were more likely to have high HDL (good cholesterol).

"Previous epidemiologic studies have found lower prevalence rates of obesity and diabetes mellitus in marijuana users compared to people who have never used marijuana, suggesting a relationship between cannabinoids and peripheral metabolic processes," said lead investigator Murray A. Mittleman, MD, DrPH, of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston.

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