There’s a lot of hype surrounding CBD oil and diabetes. There is no noticeable effect on blood sugar (blood glucose) or insulin levels in people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers continue to study the effects of CBD on diabetes in animal studies.
CBD—short for cannabidiol, a part of cannabis (marijuana)—has gotten a lot of attention lately. With changes in the legal status of cannabis, CBD has gone from a criminalized substance to being called a miracle drug. You can find CBD oil supplements, as well as foods, drinks, and lotions in stores and pharmacies across the U.S. and worldwide. However, research on the effects of CBD on the body is still limited and so far no CBD products have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
What to Know
Along with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), CBD is the major element of cannabis. But CBD does not cause the “high” that many feel from using cannabis. For decades, CBD was considered inactive, but last year, the FDA approved it under the brand name Epidiolex for a rare form of childhood epilepsy (at a much higher dose than is available in supplements). Researchers are in the very early stages of exploring other potential uses for CBD, including relieving anxiety, insomnia, chronic pain, and inflammation.
Although CBD is well tolerated by most people, there are side effects. It can suppress immune responses, raise eye pressure (which may worsen glaucoma), and increase blood levels of certain medications, such as the blood thinner Coumadin, which can lead to serious bleeding. Talk to your doctor if you’re thinking of trying CBD.
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CBD sits in a gray area. While used as a medicine, it’s also a natural compound. Many effective medications are derived from compounds found in nature, but a lot of work goes into identifying the specific, active compound and determining what dose is safe and effective. Researchers aren’t close to that yet with CBD oil.
Vaping liquids were the most commonly mislabeled CBD products in the study. The International Research Center on Cannabis and Health in New York City warns that consumers should not purchase vape products from unregulated and illicit markets. A small investigation by the Associated Press in 2019 showed that some CBD vapes had synthetic marijuana.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first CBD medication in 2018, for treating childhood epilepsy. Currently, there is no other FDA-approved CBD medication for diabetes or any other condition, according to the FDA. In December 2018, the FDA said it was unlawful under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act to sell food or dietary supplements containing CBD. In April 2019, the FDA stated that it would be taking new steps to evaluate cannabis products, and it held a public hearing about cannabis products in May 2019.
In Nevada, where Dr. Brady used to work as a certified diabetes educator, her patients with type 2 diabetes used CBD for nerve pain. She says patients would use CBD in a tincture or in oils that they rubbed on painful areas, including their feet. Patients could buy CBD at medical marijuana dispensaries, which would offer dosing instructions. "They worried about the impact on their blood sugars,” says Brady.
Early research suggests CBD and diabetes are indeed worth further study. For example, a small study published in October 2016 in Diabetes Care in the United Kingdom looked at 62 people with type 2 diabetes and found that CBD did not lower blood glucose. Participants were not on insulin, but some took other diabetes drugs. They were randomly assigned to five different treatment groups for 13 weeks: 100 milligrams (mg) of CBD twice daily; 5 mg of THCV (another chemical in cannabis) twice daily; 5 mg CBD and 5 mg THCV together twice daily; 100 mg CBD and 5 mg of THCV together twice daily; or placebo. In their paper, the authors reported that THCV (but not CBD) significantly improved blood glucose control.
Precautions for People With Diabetes Looking to Try CBD
Still, in the aforementioned survey, 78 percent of people used cannabis that was not prescribed by a doctor. “Diabetes patients might still use cannabis for medical reasons, but not have a prescription,” says Omayma Alshaarawy, MBBS, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of family medicine at Michigan State University in East Lansing, who led the study. Recreational use is another factor. She points to a separate study, published September 2019 in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that found that more than 50 percent of people with medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer use cannabis recreationally.
“What you put in your body is really important,” says Jackson, adding that’s especially true for people with major health conditions like diabetes. Jackson speaks from personal experience as a mom finding CBD treatments for her son’s epilepsy. She says consumers should ask manufacturers whether CBD products are free of mold, pesticides, and other toxins.
Realm of Caring, Jackson’s nonprofit, created a reference sheet for evaluating products and manufacturers. It also endorses products that adhere to standards such as those from the American Herbal Products Association and the FDA’s Current Good Manufacturing Practice regulations.
How the FDA Views and Regulates CBD for Disease Treatment
Other CBD research is still evolving. Some CBD and diabetes studies have been done in rats, which leads to findings that don’t always apply to human health. Other studies have looked more generally at the body’s endocannabinoid system, which sends signals about pain, stress, sleep, and other important functions. Still other studies, including one published in the American Journal of Medicine, have looked at marijuana and diabetes, but not CBD specifically.
The trendy complementary treatment is rising in popularity. Here’s what you need to know before you use CBD to manage type 2 diabetes.