New research suggests marijuana may protect users from a health condition linked to heart disease and diabetes.
More than one third of U.S. adults suffer from a combination of health risk factors together referred to as metabolic syndrome.
The risk factors — high blood pressure, abnormal cholesterol levels, high blood sugar, and a wider waist circumference — are often early warning signs of heart disease and diabetes.
Interesting enough, new findings suggest that people who use marijuana regularly are less likely to show signs of metabolic syndrome.
The study, published Mar. 11 in the journal Psychological Medicine, included data from over 1,800 adults who participated in the second Australian national survey on psychosis.
“Participants who reported using cannabis in the previous 12 months were significantly less likely than non-users to have the metabolic syndrome,” wrote the study’s authors.
“This association remained significant for frequent users (using at least once per week in the previous 12 months) after adjustment for a range of potential confounders, including lifestyle, cognitive function, antipsychotic use, diagnosis and sociodemographic characteristics.”
While the study was conducted on a sample of adults with psychotic illness, the authors note that previous research has also demonstrated a link between cannabis use and metabolic improvements among the general population.
“Of interest is the evidence emerging from general population studies showing the positive impact that cannabis may have on cardiometabolic risk factors of users compared with non-users: lower levels of fasting glucose and insulin, lower prevalence of diabetes, smaller waist circumference and body mass index (BMI) and higher levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDLs).”
Interestingly, the protective effect seemed to be greater in more frequent users, compared to those who only used marijuana occasionally.
“It is known that THC is stored in fat cells and can be slowly released over days and weeks, which may explain why cannabis can maintain its therapeutic effect days or weeks after last being used,” the authors added.
Still, more research on marijuana and the endocannabinoid system is required in order to identify the potential role that cannabis may play in preventing metabolic syndrome.
“The complex endocannabinoid system remains to be fully understood, as does the role played by individual cannabinoids and how they exert their effects on different metabolic pathways,” concluded the authors.