Study: Marijuana Users at Higher Risk for Serious Type 1 Diabetes Complications

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By : Suvarna Sheth

Individuals with type 1 diabetes may be at increased risk for serious complications when they used marijuana, new research suggests.

Marijuana use is increasing as it becomes more legal in the United States.

Some studies have even reported improvement in insulin sensitivity and pancreatic beta cell function with cannabis use, which has generated widespread attention, suggesting cannabis as a potential therapeutic agent for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.

However, less is known about the impact of cannabis on people with type 1 diabetes.

A new case study finds recurrent diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) associated with cannabis use in patients with type 1 diabetes.

How was the study conducted?

The survey involved 450 patients with type 1 diabetes in Colorado, where marijuana is legal. Of the participants, 30 percent used marijuana.

When compared to those that did not use marijuana, those that did, had about twice the risk of experiencing a complication known as diabetic ketoacidosis.

The condition develops when blood sugar is elevated for too long and the body produces high levels of acids known as ketones. If the condition is not treated, it can lead to severe dehydration, swelling in the brain, coma, and even death.

Study Findings

It was found that participants who used marijuana in the study had average A1c readings of 8.4 percent, representing dangerously elevated blood sugar that can increase the risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, amputations, and death.

They found that those did not use marijuana had average A1c readings of 7.6 percent, still higher than ideal but not as dangerous as the levels for people who used marijuana.

One limitation of the study was that it was not a controlled experiment to understand actually how cannabis might cause ketoacidosis.

And, study authors note that further research is needed to better understand the effects of marijuana use on diabetes patients.

The research was conducted at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes and the School of Public Health at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

The study was published in JAMA.