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Pot Luck? Scientists Find Marijuana and Weight Loss Link: Could it Even Treat Diabetes?

May 16, 2013 02:25 PM EDT by Michael Briggs

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Could smoking pot really help keep you thin?

According to a new study by researchers from the University of Nebraska, Harvard and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, frequent marijuana smokers had 16% lower levels of insulin than non-smokers. These same participants also had significantly smaller waist circumferences in comparison to those who had never used marijuana, even after adjusting for factors like age, sex, tobacco and alcohol use, and physical activity levels. The team studied 4,657 adults for their research, including 579 regular cannabis smokers.

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"We found significant associations between marijuana use and smaller waist circumferences," the researchers report.

The study looked to investigate a link between marijuana and its active ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on metabolism, and particularly insulin levels. Insulin resistance is a crucial risk factor for diabetes, as the body's cells cannot intake appropriate amounts of insulin.

"Is it possible that THC will be commonly prescribed in the future for patients with diabetes or metabolic syndrome alongside antidiabetic oral agents or insulin for improved management of this chronic illness? Only time will answer this question for us," Dr. Joseph Alpert, professor of medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine, Tucson, said in an editorial that accompanied the journal.

"We desperately need a great deal more basic and clinical research into the short- and long-term effects of marijuana in a variety of clinical settings such as cancer, diabetes and frailty of the elderly," Alpert wrote.

While the current marijuana users reported positive results, former users of the drug did not prove to be as lucky. This find suggests that cannabis' effect on insulin and insulin resistance may only occur after recent use.

Frequent marijuana smokers also had higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, which is known as the "good cholesterol."

The team's findings can be found in a new report in the American Journal of Medicine.

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