Cannabidiol, a non-psychotropic substance found in marijuana, may actually prevent an eye condition that leads to an all-too-common complication of diabetes. The complication, of course, is diabetic retinopathy.

It’s the growth of abnormal, excess blood vessels in the eye that leads to retinopathy. But Gregory Liou, Ph.D., of the Medical College of Georgia has found that cannabidiol can prevent this from happening. His study, which was published in the American Journal of Pathology and reported by United Press International, found that cannabidiol had the ability to dramatically reduce oxidative stress in rats with diabetes. Cannabidiol also decreased the levels of certain factors which are key in the development of retinopathy. And the substance prevented the blood vessels from leaking into the retina and the death of retinal cells.

It’s not the first time researchers have looked at cannabis plant extracts as an ingredient for a medication to help diabetes. In the United Kingdom, professor Mike Cawthorne is working with GW Pharma, a specialist developer of cannabis-based medications, to come up with plant-based medicines that would treat diabetes.

While marijuana contains between 60 and 70 cannabinoid extracts, just one (THC) has the psychoactive properties that are usually linked with the plant. Now the GW Metabolic Research Laboratory is examining the various cannabinoid molecules that have been discovered in the cannabis plant, with the idea of coming up with medications.

Cawthorne had led the team that developed a drug called Avandia, GlaxoSmithKline’s second biggest selling drug until 2007, when a study linking it to a higher risk of heart attacks caused the sales to plummet.

“I sincerely believe it is possible to improve on it (Avandia), and plant based medicines could be one way to do that,” Cawthorne told Reuters.

Cawthorne, who is recognized as a leading authority in the research of new treatments for both obesity and type 2 diabetes, told Reuters that he’s doing his research with actual cannabis extract, not the synthetic equivalent. The GW Metabolic Research Laboratory is hoping to create a medication that would treat specific symptoms of diabetes, like non-alcoholic fatty liver, according to Reuters.

“There really have been relatively few developments in finding new diabetes drug treatments,” Cawthorne told Reuters. “This new approach might be more productive in answering the unmet clinical need.”

Needless to say, don’t expect to see marijuana-based meds out there anytime soon. Amy Fischl, RD, of the Kovler Diabetes Center at University of Chicago Medical Center, says nothing is anywhere close to being ready for approval by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.

“There are some studies being done, but nothing is really in the works yet,” Fischl said.


Liou, Gregory. “Cannabidiol compound may protect against diabetic retinopathy.” American Journal of Pathology 168 (1): 235-244, 2006.), reprinted in Forecast, the publication of the American Diabete Association.”

“Scientist: Marijuana May Treat Diabetes.” Reuters. 17 June 2009.,2933,526853,00.html?sPage=fnc/health/diabetes

Researchers from the U.S., Switzerland, and Israel and reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology—CBD reduces various symptoms of diabetic cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle) in mice with type 1 diabetes.

The incidence of diabetes is steadily increasing in both the adult and juvenile population.  Further cannabinoid research is necessary for the treatment of diabetes.

New insights into the role of cannabis and cannabinoids in diabetes are emerging from this developing field of research.

Two other major actions of cannabis can benefit the diabetic.  First is helping to keep blood vessels open and improving circulation.  Cannabis is a vasodilator and works well to improve blood flow.  Second, cannabis may reduce blood pressure over time.  Cannabis is not generally thought to be an anti-hypertensive and is not a replacement for ACE inhibitors, it does contribute to lowering blood pressure which is so important in managing diabetes.


Neuropathy is the most common complication of diabetes.  The aim of the study was to explore the antinocieceptive effect of a controlled cannabis extract (eCBD) on diabetic neuropathic pain.  Repeated treatment with cannabis extract significantly relieved mechanical allodynia and restored the physiological thermal pain perception in diabetic rats without affecting hyperglycemia.  In addition, the results showed that eCBD increased the reduced glutathione (GSH) content in the liver.  Suggesting that eCBD provides protection against oxidative damage.


Diabetes:  insulin is excreted from the beta islet cells of the pancreas.  Insulin, a natural body chemical, floods the body after a sugar-rich meal and causes various cell types to dramatically increase their uptake of glucose, a common sugar.  The effect of insulin is to reduce the levels of glucose in the bloodstream.  Diabetes can result from the body’s inability to produce sufficient quantities of insulin or from an inability to respond properly to the insulin that is produced.  In any case, many of the clinical effects of diabetes stem from the deleterious effects of high blood sugar.

There is evidence that cannabis lowers blood sugar.  Evidence also supports a “longer acting” cannabinoid suppresses blood sugar levels more efficiently.  Cannabis may lower blood sugar in a non-disease state.

Diabetic patients presenting with micro and macro-vascular complications show significant increases in serum VEGF concentration.  Cannabinoid treatment decreased serum VEGF levels, leading to an improvement in symptoms.  These results suggest an immunomodulatory role for cannabinoids in addition to their previously documented anti-inflammatory effects.


  • Cannabis stabilizes blood sugar
  • Cannabis has anti-inflammatory effects
  • Cannabis has neuroprotective effects
  • Cannabis has anti-spasmodic effects
  • Cannabis acts as a vasodilator
  • Cannabis helps lower blood pressure
  • Cannabis helps relieve diabetic RLS (restless leg syndrome)

Type 2 Diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder that is primarily characterized by insulin resistance, relative insulin deficiency, and hyperglycemia (high blood sugar). Insulin resistance occurs when cells of the body do not respond appropriately to insulin. This is important because insulin is needed to move glucose (blood sugar) into cells, where it is used for energy.