How CBD Can Help Ward Off Complications From Diabetes

No matter which aisle of a store you find yourself in, CBD has become the ingredient du jour for just about every ailment. Since gaining legal status in the 2018 Farm Bill, this non-psychoactive chemical extracted from the cannabis plant now appears in products ranging from lotions to dietary supplements. While the evidence supporting the health effects of CBD is limited, the existing research points to a great deal of potential for CBD to help people suffering from epilepsy, anxiety, Parkinson's disease, MS, schizophrenia, and even diabetes, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Diabetes affects over 37 million Americans and is one of the deadliest chronic diseases, notes the Centers for Disease Control. As of 2019, diabetes remains one of the top ten causes of mortality worldwide, and the World Health Organization says the number of people affected by it continues to grow. Most people with diabetes have type 2, which usually develops later in life and is primarily caused by extra body fat and a sedentary lifestyle. The remaining 5% of people with diabetes have type 1, an autoimmune disease usually diagnosed in childhood (although a growing number of children are being diagnosed with type 2 as well).

People living with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes face stark health issues, including increased risk of stroke or heart attack, pain and circulation problems in their limbs, sometimes resulting in amputation, eye damage leading to blindness, and eventually the shutdown of the kidneys. Understandably, patients are eager to find treatments, and CBD may provide relief to some of the health issues associated with the disease.

CBD has anti-inflammatory properties

One of the greatest potentials for treating the symptoms of diabetes with CBD comes from its power to reduce inflammation. While the cause of inflammation in type 2 diabetes is not entirely clear, research from 2013 indicates that inflammation can cause people to become insulin resistant, which can worsen their increased blood sugar levels and further complicate their diabetic condition. Diabetic eye health, for example, is directly tied to inflammation. Chronic swelling of the macula — the back part of the eye — can lead to partial or even total vision loss.

A literature review published in 2021 reveals that dozens of studies show how CBD can reduce inflammation by lowering the number of cytokines (proteins that communicate information between cells). The same holds true for type 1 diabetics; a mice study from 2016 showed decreased pancreatic inflammation when the animals were given CBD. Clinicians hope not just to control but perhaps eventually prevent diabetes by reducing levels of inflammation, according to a 2019 study in the European Cardiology Review.

CBD can help with diabetes-associated pain

High blood sugar — the most common symptom in both type 1 and type 2 diabetes — can interfere with blood flow and cause severe nerve damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Without a healthy pathway for nerves to communicate, various issues can arise, including chronic pain and numbness, especially in the extremities. This diabetic neuropathy can eventually affect the autonomic nervous system and other body parts, sometimes disabling a person.

Research from 2020 in the journal Antioxidants found that CBD promoted better blood flow in rats with type 2 diabetes. CBD also activated 5-HT1A receptors in the brain. These serotonin receptors play a significant role in depression. By stimulating them, the patient receives an antidepressant experience, which can help provide relief from diabetic neuropathy. Activating these receptors also showed reduced behavioral and psychological responses to stress in rats. Lastly, because of the circulation issues caused by high blood sugar, people with diabetes also have difficulty healing wounds, and research indicates that CBD can help with that as well.

CBD may help prevent diabetes

When people ingest CBD, the chemical affects G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) — proteins that translate signals from outside the cell into a response inside the cell. These proteins can govern hormonal signals, the transmission of information between neurons in the brain, and sensory input (sight, smell, and taste). Research from 2018 indicates that several GCPRs play a role in insulin resistance as well as beta cell dysfunction, both of which can trigger the development of diabetes.

A 2006 study published in Autoimmunity found that laboratory mice given CBD had lower rates of diabetes as indicated by a markedly reduced production of pancreatic islets — cells that trigger hormones the body requires to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. But in 2021, when research published in Diabetes Spectrum turned to human subjects, the results were not nearly as promising. Researchers concluded that CBD was not a viable treatment for type 2 diabetes, but, the study noted, it also didn't exacerbate the condition.

Beware of CBD claims

Because CBD is not a medication regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, manufacturers of CBD products don't have to back up their claims with research, notes the American Diabetes Association. That reality leaves consumers in the dark about the efficacy and the dosage of CBD in these over-the-counter foods, drinks, and personal care products. Moreover, CBD can cause unwanted side effects, including greater eye pressure, higher blood levels of particular drugs like blood thinners, and lowered immune responses — all of which can negatively affect a person with diabetes.

The bottom line: No commercially available CBD product should be used to treat either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Both diseases can be life-threatening and must be monitored by medical professionals. As research on CBD and other cannabis compounds continues to grow, perhaps diabetics and other people suffering from chronic illnesses will find more relief from their unique therapeutic properties. Until then, any claim that CBD is a miracle treatment for diabetes is just a marketing technique.