CBD Oil for Diabetes?

Don't fall for the hype. Here's what the science and the experts have to say about cannabidiol oil (CBD) and your blood sugar. Part 1 in a series of OnTrack Diabetes reports.

Cannabis-Infused CocktailCBD is turning up in everything from beauty products like lip balm and mascara to soda, coffee, infused waters and alcohol, too. (Photo: Unsplash)

Claims that cannabidiol oil—widely known as CBD oil or hemp oil—can help control blood sugar for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes or even reverse diabetes are all over the Internet.

A quick Google search of the terms “CBD Oil” and “Diabetes” turns up 2.9 million hits, with promises and testimonials that the compound cannabidiol in this hemp- or marijuana-based oil could “stabilize blood sugar1”, “improve insulin resistance2 ”, “decrease the need for  insulin3” and even “suppress, reverse and perhaps cure the disease.4"

Trouble is, there’s no proof it can do any of those things.

“I don’t know that I would recommend CBD oil for diabetes,” notes integrative medicine doctor Taz Bhatia, MD, of Atlanta, Georgia, author of the books Super Woman RX and What Doctors Eat.  “CBD is showing promise as a pain-reliever, an epilepsy treatment, and for wasting disease associated with cancer. It may help with neuropathic pain in diabetes. I think it is ok to try it, but don’t skip or cut back on diabetes medications.”

Eileen Konieczny, RN, past president of the American Cannabis Nurses Association and author of the book Healing with CBD: How Cannabidiol can Transform your Health without the High (Ulysses Press, September 18, 2018) agrees. “I have not witnessed blood sugar control or management with CBD alone,” Konieczny told On Track Diabetes in an interview. “CBD clearly will help with the inflammation that accompanies diabetes and in that way [can be] a very helpful addition.”

It may also ease the pain of peripheral neuropathy, she says. But people with diabetes shouldn’t expect it to lower their glucose levels or their A1Cs. “I have never seen anyone stop needing their diabetes medications because they started using CBD or cannabis,” she says.

What Research Really Says

Unlike marijuana, the compound cannabidiol won’t get you high even though it’s derived from cannabis. But product sales and interest in CBD are hitting new heights. In June, the FDA approved Epidiolex (cannabidiol), the nation’s first drug derived from marijuana, for two rare forms of epilepsy—Lennox-Gastaut syndrome and Dravet syndrome5

Over-the-counter and Internet sales of non-prescription CBD oil are expected to rise from $190 million in 2017 to $626 million by 2022 according to the Hemp Business Journal’s State of Hemp 2018 report6

CBD is also turning up in everything from beauty products like lip balm and mascara to sodas, alcohol, and infused waters.

CBD’s got real potential in a wide variety of health conditions. There are currently more than 75 human studies of cannabidiol that are active, recruiting volunteers or in planning stages for conditions ranging from seizures to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, heart failure, Parkinson’s disease, bipolar depression, and cocaine dependence.7  

Not one focuses on diabetes.

In fact, one of the only studies to ever look directly at the effects of cannabidiol on blood sugar and insulin levels in people with diabetes found no benefits at all.Published in the journal Diabetes Care in October of 2016, this British study compared the effects of CBD and another cannabis compound (tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV)) on blood sugar, insulin sensitivity, HDL cholesterol and other markers in 62 people with type 2 diabetes.

They took one of the compounds, or a combination of the two, daily for 13 weeks. The result: While THCV reduced blood sugar a little, CBD didn't affect blood sugar levels. (CBD did seem to cause small changes in resistin, a protein that boosts inflammation and may be involved in insulin resistance; and glucose-dependent insulinotropic peptide hormone that stimulates insulin release.) "But there were no detectable metabolic effects," the researchers concluded. 

The research had been supported by the UK drug company GW Pharmaceuticals, which went on to develop Epidiolex for seizure disorders. In April 2017 the company, which specializes in the development of cannabidiol-based medicines, announced that it was no longer researching its CBD compound for diabetes “due to negative data in diabetes.”9

So what about all the research cited online suggesting blood sugar benefits? Some mis-state the results of the UK study. All link readers to small studies in animals, with results that have not been tested or not been replicated in people. Many laud work done in Israel a decade ago, when 68% of diabetes-prone mice who got CBD didn’t develop blood sugar problems.10

What the FDA Says

Between 2015 and 2018, the US Food and Drug Administration sent warning letters to companies that marketed CBD products, over claims and testimonials that oils and other products could treat diabetes and other conditions—including cancer. The FDA also warned that in some cases, lab tests showed that the products contained no CBD.

You won’t find those unfounded treatment claims and miracle-cure testimonials on product websites anymore. But they are turning up more and more frequently on other websites. When the drug Epidiolex won approval in the US this summer, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, MD, warned consumers about the dangers this could pose. “The promotion and use of these unapproved products may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases,” Dr. Gottlieb said in a statement.

“The FDA has taken recent actions against companies distributing unapproved CBD products. These products have been marketed in a variety of formulations, such as oil drops, capsules, syrups, teas, and topical lotions and creams. These companies have claimed that various CBD products could be used to treat or cure serious diseases such as cancer with no scientific evidence to support such claims.  We’re especially concerned when these products are marketed for serious or life-threatening diseases, where the illegal promotion of an unproven compound could discourage a patient from seeking other therapies that have proven benefits.”11

Dr. Bhatia says that while CBD oil can have an important role to play in medicine, its difficult finding unbiased information. “The controversy surrounding cannabis has to do with the tug of war between medical purpose and recreational use—not to mention big money,” she notes on her website. “I think for now it is best to try it for the conditions recommended. For example—epilepsy, pain, Crohn’s disease or Inflammatory Bowel Disease,” she told On Track Diabetes.

“We are using CBD without THC for chronic inflammatory conditions as well.” If you still want to give it a try, do your homework to determine if it’s safe for you. And Dr. Bhatia says you should look for proof it's helping—and not change your existing medications. “Try it for three months,” she says. “But don’t cut back on diabetes medications.”

To learn more about participating in clinical trials, go to clinicaltrials.gov.

Updated on: December 19, 2018
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