CBD In the Treatment of Diabetes

CBD In the Treatment of Diabetes
Click to view CBD for Diabetes infographic.

CBD, or cannabidiol, is a chemical compound found in the cannabis plant that is believed to have a variety of medicinal benefits for humans. According to a team of researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, led by Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, CBD might be helpful in treating diabetes.

Lab tests suggest that CBD may reduce inflammation caused by diabetes, and perhaps even delay or prevent the onset of diabetes. Although research is still at an early stage, findings look promising. In this article, we will take a closer look at how CBD can be effective in the fight against diabetes.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes mellitus is a disease that causes abnormally high levels of sugar (glucose) in the blood. Glucose levels in the human body naturally fluctuate. When they increase, they trigger the pancreas to produce insulin. This hormone regulates blood glucose levels by stimulating muscle and fat cells to remove excess glucose from the blood. Insufficient insulin production results in high blood sugar levels.

There are two major types of diabetes:

Type I Diabetes (5% of cases) is an autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system cannot tell the difference between invaders (such as bacteria) and the body’s healthy tissues and creates autoantibodies that attack and destroy healthy tissue. In cases of Type I diabetes, autoantibodies attack the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.

Type II Diabetes (95% of cases) is often the result of poor diet and lifestyle choices. In Type II diabetes, the body produces the necessary levels of insulin but fails to utilize it properly. The pancreas produces extra insulin in order to keep up with the glucose levels in the blood. Eventually, it fails to keep up, leading to a buildup of excess sugar in the bloodstream called hyperglycemia.

How many people have diabetes?

According to a 2017 report by CDC, in 2015 over 30 million people in the US alone suffered from diabetes – or approximately 9.5% of the total US population. Another estimated 7.2 million cases went undiagnosed.

The percentage of adults with diabetes increases in older age groups, reaching a high of 25.2% among people aged 65+. 132,000 of the patients were children and adolescents younger than the age of 18 (0.18% of the total U.S. population younger than age 18 years). 10.7 million people with diagnosed diabetes, belong to the 45-65 age group, while another 3.6 million cases in the same age group remained unreported.

The CDC report also revealed a correlation between education level and occurrence of Type II diabetes. People with less than a high school education are diagnosed with diabetes at higher rates (12.6%) than the ones with high school (9.5%) or higher education (7.2%).

In 2015, diabetes was ranked as the seventh leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for more than 79,500 deaths nationwide.

What causes diabetes?

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the human immune system falsely identifies the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas as a threat (antigen) and destroys them. This may be triggered by environmental factors or viruses, although the medical community has not yet reached a consensus on this.

As stated above, Type II diabetes is caused by a sedentary lifestyle and poor dietary choices. Genetic predisposition can also be a factor. Type II diabetes can be prevented by eating a healthy diet and partaking in moderate exercise.

With regular medical checkups, diabetes can be caught and treated early, drastically reducing the negative effects, sometimes even reversing the disease’s progression.

What are the symptoms of diabetes?

Symptoms of Type I diabetes usually start to appear very soon after the disease manifests, whereas Type II develops slowly, sometimes taking years to become apparent. Often, those suffering from Type II diabetes don’t realize they have the disease until the symptoms are serious.

Symptoms of diabetes include:

  • Thirst
  • Hunger
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of focus
  • Numbness in the feet and hands
  • Sores
  • Weight loss

How is diabetes diagnosed?

Diabetes is diagnosed via blood tests. To diagnose Type II diabetes, healthcare professionals mainly use the fasting plasma glucose (FPG) test to measure the blood glucose levels of patients that have gone at least 8 hours without eating. This test can also diagnose early stages of Type I diabetes. Doctors also sometimes use what’s called a random plasma glucose (RPG) test to check blood sugar levels. The RPG test is used mainly to diagnose diabetes in later stages.

If the results of the blood tests are positive (indicating diabetes), the doctors repeat the testing and will suggest a zinc transporter 8 autoantibody (ZnT8Ab) test to determine whether the patient has Type I or Type II diabetes.

How harmful is diabetes?

Chronic diabetes can lead to a variety of long-term problems for patients, particularly cardiovascular problems that can result in heart attack or stroke. Common complications include kidney failure, eye problems or circulatory system damage.

Diabetic Neuropathies

Nerve damage throughout the body is one of the most common conditions caused by diabetes. According to studies, about 70% of diabetes patients have some form of neuropathy. The most common symptoms are pain, tingling, or numbness in the arms, feet and legs. Diabetic neuropathy can affect all organs, including the heart and the reproductive system. Risk of developing diabetic neuropathy rises with age and duration of diabetes. People who have had diabetes for at least 25 years have the highest rates of neuropathies.

Diabetic Nephropathy (Kidney Disease)

Kidney disease related to diabetes is called diabetic nephropathy and doesn’t show any symptoms until it has reached later stages. High blood sugar and high blood pressure caused by diabetes can damage the blood vessels in your kidneys, preventing them from working as normal, reducing their ability to filter out unwanted byproducts from your bloodstream.

Essentially, when your kidneys malfunction, the body becomes unable to process toxins correctly, leading to a buildup of waste products and excess fluid in the body. This can cause fatigue, shortness of breath and confusion, while excess chemical compounds can lead to arrhythmia or even death. However, at the first stages, neuropathy does not have any notable side effects.

Diabetic Retinopathy

One of the most dangerous complications of diabetes, retinopathy, is caused when high blood glucose levels damage the light-sensitive blood vessels in the retina causing the blood vessels to swell and leak, or even close. This usually manifests as a mild blurred vision but, if left untreated, diabetic retinopathy can lead to blindness. Diabetic Retinopathy can develop in both types of diabetes patients and the risk increases for those who are not controlling their blood glucose levels.

Circulatory System Damage

Diabetes increases blood pressure, increasing your heart’s workload. In combination with high glucose levels in the bloodstream, this can lead to the formation of fat deposits in the blood vessel walls. If left untreated, this can impede blood flow and increase the risk of atherosclerosis (hardening of the blood vessels). The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases warns that diabetes can double the risk of heart disease and stroke.

How is diabetes treated?

Treatment of Type II diabetes involves drastic changes to diet and lifestyle. Factors which diabetes patients need to keep in check are weight, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, HbA1c, and cholesterol levels.

Type 1 diabetes treatment is more difficult. Due to the absence of insulin in the body, patients must carry injectable insulin at all times, or use an insulin pump.

In 2016, the first artificial pancreas was approved by the FDA for use by patients of 14 years of age or older.

Like most medications, diabetes drugs often have unwanted side effects such as stomach problems, gas, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. In rare cases, diabetes medication can lead to liver or kidney problems.

How does CBD help treat diabetes?

Lab testing on mice suffering from Type I diabetes has shown that CBD can delay inflammation associated with diabetes, resulting in decreased incidence of onset of the disease.

CBD’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties can also make it effective in mitigating diabetes complications.

Another study done on rats, published in the American Journal of Medicine concluded that CBD use was associated with lower levels of fasting insulin and HOMA-IR, and smaller waist circumference among 2,544 participants.

CBD for Diabetic Nephropathy

CBD has shown promise when used as an aid for kidney disease by blocking cytokines which cause inflammation in the kidneys. In addition, CBD cleanses the digestive tract, reducing nephrotoxicity caused by high blood glucose levels. According to a 2002 study, 12 out of 15 kidney disease patients showed a reduction in the pain that is associated with kidney disease after using CBD products.

CBD for Diabetic Neuropathy

Studies have shown that CBD can be used to reduce pain caused by diabetic neuropathy. Research by Toth et al. established that CBD reduces proteins that trigger nerve damage in diabetic mice and reported lower pain levels for the subjects. Further studies involving 234 people suffering from peripheral neuropathic pain showed that more than half of them reported drastically reduced pain levels after taking CBD regularly for 10 months.

CBD for Diabetic Retinopathy

Research has shown that CBD can reduce neurotoxicity and inflammation caused by high blood sugar levels, decreasing retinal inflammation, and protecting the retinal blood vessels from swelling or leaking.

CBD for Circulatory System Damage

Cannabinoid receptors in the cardiovascular system are extremely important in the regulation of circulation and heart function. Endocannabinoids (those produced by the human body) and CBD, in particular, are key in regulating the immune-inflammation system and circulatory functions. Inflammation is closely connected with atherosclerosis, so researchers suggest the use of CBD might counter its effects.

Cannabidiol or CBD has a regulatory effect on autoimmune diseases. That means it can be used to mitigate atherosclerosis progression, especially when the disease is caused by high glucose levels such as in diabetes. Clinical studies have indicated that using CBD to activate CB2 receptors can reduce several issues in the circulatory system.

Studies involving CBD in the treatment of diabetes

Additional sources of information


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