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This New Study Will Test Marijuana’s Effect on Type 2 Diabetes

Jun 20, 2019

This New Study Will Test Marijuana’s Effect on Type 2 Diabetes

Alexander Beadle
Science Writer
@alexbeadlesci

A researcher at the University of California, Riverside, has been awarded a three-year grant worth $744,000 from the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program by the University of California Office of the President. The grant money will fund research into the impact of long-term cannabis use on metabolic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

Assistant Professor Nicholas V. DiPatrizio of the UCR School of Medicine and his laboratory research team are the recipients of the grant, which is the first cannabis-related grant awarded to any group at the Riverside campus. 

“Scientists are still not sure how exactly long-term, or chronic cannabis use affects health and a variety of tobacco-related pathologies, such as type 2 diabetes, and other metabolic diseases,” said DiPatrizio, in a press release from the university. “We expect the knowledge we will gain in this project will help guide science-based public policy associated with the health impact of short-term and long-term cannabis use.”


Cannabis and the body

Good metabolic health is associated with ideal levels of blood sugar, triglycerides, cholesterol, blood pressure, and waist circumference. People with poorer metabolic health often have high triglyceride levels and blood pressure, and a larger waist circumference than average. In addition, many people with poor metabolic health also find that their body becomes unable to control its normal blood sugar levels. Poor metabolic health can lead to an increased risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. 

While short-term cannabis use is often associated with the “munchies” and overeating, long-term frequent cannabis use has conversely been linked to lower body weights. In addition, DiPatrizio has also claimed that long-term cannabis use can lead to improvements in other metabolic parameters, such as promoting higher levels of “good cholesterol.” 

Receptors for the body’s endocannabinoid system are present in many areas of the body, including the central nervous system and all peripheral organs. While the endocannabinoid system is probably best known for the intoxicating effects it can produce if activated by the correct cannabinoids, the system is also an active part in many of the body’s ordinary physiological functions, including food intake and metabolic regulation


Studying cannabis and metabolic health

DiPatrizio’s lab has designed an experiment which will allow them to study how cannabis affects the stable equilibrium of glucose (or “glucose homeostasis”) in the body. As type 2 diabetes is marked by higher-than-normal levels of glucose in the blood, studying this should also provide a good assessment of whether long-term cannabis use might affect rates of developing type 2 diabetes. 

“We will investigate in wild-type mice whether cannabis exposure is linked to higher incidence of type 2 diabetes,” said DiPatrizio. “We will also investigate how important the endocannabinoid system, which cannabis hijacks, is for maintaining glucose homeostasis and if cannabis exposure dysregulates the process.”

DiPatrizio explains that glucose homeostasis in humans and mammals is controlled by the release of incretins – metabolic hormones that modulate insulin secretion to stabilize blood sugar levels – from the small intestine. 

His experiment aims to assess the impact of exposure to the cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on incretin release in wild-type mice, and in mice that have been engineered to lack cannabinoid receptor in the small intestine and related areas. A control group of mice will be fed a normal diet designed to keep the mice lean, while the experiment group will be fed a “western diet,” which centers high-fat and high-sugar foods and aims to bring on obesity. 

“We will explore if THC makes the obese mice leaner with improvements in metabolism,” DiPatrizio said. “We expect to find the endocannabinoid system in the small intestines of the lean mice controls incretin release and glucose homeostasis. Further, we suspect the endocannabinoid system becomes dysregulated in the obese mice and participates in cannabis-induced changes in metabolic function.”

 

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