At a time when metabolic syndrome presents a significant public health issue in society, an analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) indicates that cannabis consumption could provide relief. Metabolic syndrome, a combination of symptoms including high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity, is a contributing factor to cardiovascular illness and can be potentially fatal. According to the original NHANES report, metabolic syndrome continues to be a pervasive problem in the U.S.
However, according to the analysis conducted by the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine, recently published by the American Journal of Medicine, reveals individuals who consume cannabis — even in a smokable form — are approximately 50 percent less likely to have metabolic syndrome than those who have never used cannabis.
This may seem ironic as historically, the popular narrative is to portray cannabis users as lazy, munchie-obsessed slackers, who lead a sedentary lifestyle, leading many to assume that cannabis users would be more inclined to acquire metabolic syndrome. However, research suggests just the opposite.
Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) Analysis
The University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine examined data gathered between 2005 and 2010 to determine if there was a correlation between marijuana use and metabolic syndrome. The researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys consisting of approximately 8500 subjects between the ages of 20 and 59 years old, who were considered afflicted by metabolic syndrome based on the following criteria — they must have three or more of the following:
- Elevated fasting glucose levels
- High triglycerides
- Low HDL cholesterol
- Elevated systolic
- Diastolic blood pressure
- Increased waist circumference
The researchers segmented subjects into three categories:
- Those who have never consumed cannabis
- Those who currently consume cannabis
- Those who have consumed cannabis, but have stopped
- Researchers determined 19.5% of the participants in the study who had never consumed cannabis met the criteria of metabolic syndrome.
- Of former cannabis users, 17.5% could be diagnosed with metabolic syndrome.
- Most surprisingly, current cannabis users were the least significant group affected by metabolic syndrome, at just 13.8%
- Cannabis users indicated average glucose levels (how much sugar is present in one’s blood). These levels were significantly lower compared to people who never consumed cannabis.
- Cannabis users also demonstrated fasting glucose levels at significantly lower levels when compared to people who never used and their waist circumference was significantly lower among men who currently smoked.
Julie Holland, MD, psychopharmacologist, winner of the Norman Zinberg Award for Medical Excellence in 2011 and author of “The Pot Book: A Complete Guide to Cannabis“, has come to similar conclusions cited in the study: “What reverses insulin resistance? Cannabis. It turns out that the cannabinoid system is intimately involved in sugar and energy utilization.” Julie Holland, MD, continues, “Chronic pot smokers have smaller waistlines, better cholesterol and fatty acid levels, and less insulin resistance than people who don’t use the drug.”
Further, in Dr. Holland’s research, she found the endocannabinoid system is crucial to maintaining one’s metabolism. Likewise, she concludes insulin sensitivity and resistance are crucial when it comes to weight management.
How Prevalent is Metabolic Syndrome?
According to key findings of the original study National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), although the U.S. obesity epidemic has stabilized, metabolic syndrome continues to be a major problem.
Key findings from NHANES:
- Nearly 35 percent of all U.S. adults and 50 percent of those 60 years of age or older were estimated to have the metabolic syndrome in 2011-2012.
- From 2003-2004 to 2011-2012, the overall prevalence of the metabolic syndrome increased from 32.9 percent to 34.7 percent.
- From 2003 to 2012, prevalence was higher in women compared with men.
- When stratified by race/ethnicity, the highest prevalence was seen in Hispanics, followed by non-Hispanic whites and blacks.
- Prevalence increased by age groups, increasing from 18.3 percent among those 20 to 39 years of age to 46.7 percent among those 60 years or older.
The prevalence of metabolic syndrome among older populations is particularly concerning. Dr. Robert Wong, an assistant clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco and senior author of the study believes the high prevalence among the oldest age group is concerning because, “We know the population of the U.S. is aging. I think it will potentially place a huge burden on our health care system.”
University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine’s Study Is Good News for Society
Could the results from analysis be good news for not only the legal cannabis reform movement but for society as a whole? Certainly.
With immense health costs and an aging population, it is imperative that policymakers understand the prevalence and problems of metabolic syndrome so that they can create policies to fight against it. The study provides further ammunition for sensible policy makers to advance liberalization of cannabis laws and expand access to medical marijuana. Further, policy makers could use evidence from the study to expand the list of treatable ailments that medical marijuana can treat.
The Bottom Line
According to authors of the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine analysis of the NHANES study: “Current marijuana use is associated with lower odds of metabolic syndrome across emerging and middle-aged US adults. Future studies should examine the biological pathways of this relationship.”
The researchers added, “These findings have important implications for the nation as marijuana use becomes more accepted and we simultaneously face multiple epidemics of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.”
What are your thoughts on this subject? How do you think research like this is moving the medical cannabis conversation forward? Join the conversation and comment below!
- National Institutes of Health
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: Metabolic Syndrome among Marijuana Users in the United States: An Analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey Data
- Journal of the American Medical Association: Prevalence of the Metabolic Syndrome in the United States, 2003-2012
- Julie Holland, M.D.: “Moody Bitches, The Truth About the Drugs You’re Taking, The Sleep You’re Missing, The Sex You’re Not Having, and What’s Really Making You Crazy”, page 173
- T. C. Kirkham, “Endocannabinoids in the° Regulation of Appetite and Body Weight,” Behavioral Pharmacology 16, no. 5–6 (2005): 297–313
- Yann Le Strat and Bernard Le Foll, “Obesity and Cannabis Use: Results from 2 Representative National Surveys,” American Journal of Epidemiology 174, no. 8 (2011): 929
- Elizabeth A. Penner et al., “The Impact of Marijuana Use on Glucose, Insulin, and Insulin Resistance Among U.S. Adults,” American Journal of Medicine 126, no. 7 (2013): 583–89