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New research adds evidence to the notion that marijuana is good for more than just treating disease: It can also help prevent it.

A study in the American Journal of Medicine suggests pot users may be at lower risk for diabetes and other metabolic disorders. Researchers found that current users have lower levels of insulin and less resistance to it than nonusers, along with smaller waist sizes and more “good” cholesterol.

The study examined data on 4,657 adults who took an annual survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They compared results for the years 2005-2010 to test for a link between metabolism and THC intake.

Of the participants, 569 were current users of marijuana. Almost 2,000 more had tried pot, and about 2,100 never had. Diabetics were excluded.

Researchers used blood tests to gauge insulin and cholesterol levels and applied the so-called homeostatic model assessment to determine levels of insulin resistance. Here’s what they found:

  • Current weed users had fasting insulin levels that were 16 percent lower than those of nonusers.
  • Current users had 17 percent lower levels of insulin resistance than nonusers.
  • Current users had higher levels of HDL-C, or “good” cholesterol.
  • Current users had average waist sizes that were smaller than those of nonusers

Some of this evidence flies in the face of conventional wisdom. Weed is an appetite increaser, and studies have shown that users eat more than nonusers, yet this study and numerous others have shown a conflicting correlation: Active users weigh less than nonusers.

Previous studies have also suggested a link between pot and type 2 diabetes prevention. Users have lower rates of the disorder on average than nonusers.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which aspects of the metabolism fail, leading to a buildup of sugar in the bloodstream. Obesity and poor health are among the leading causes, and critical factors include decreased insulin production and resistance of the body’s cells to insulin (“insulin resistance”).

Lower insulin production makes it difficult for sugar in the blood to access cells, so instead it piles up in the bloodstream. Insulin resistance has the same effect, as the cells refuse to accept the insulin that is produced. Keeping both these factors in check makes type 2 diabetes less likely. The same is true of waist size: Smaller equates to less risk.

There is no evidence marijuana helps prevent type 1 diabetes, a disease with an unknown cause that tends to strike during youth. There is little direct research exploring the benefits of pot as an actual treatment for either form of diabetes, but controlling insulin production and insulin resistance is beneficial to both types. Cannabis has been suggested as a treatment for some diabetic complications.

More research is needed to flesh out the real value of weed to diabetics and those concerned about developing the disease. But studies so far have established an intriguing link between marijuana and metabolism, a link that could eventually help many new patients – and keep even more from becoming patients in the first place.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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