Researchers have released a new study showing that Type 1 diabetics who use marijuana are more likely to develop potentially deadly complications than those who abstain.
A survey of Type 1 diabetics found that the risk of developing a serious complication known as diabetic ketoacidosis was about twice as high for pot users over nonusers, Reuters reported. Diabetic ketoacidosis is a condition when the body produces high levels of blood acids called ketones. If left untreated, it can lead to diabetic coma and even death.
Type 1 diabetes is the less common form of diabetes that usually develops during childhood.
Pot use has increased with the shift in public perception surrounding the safety of marijuana as states continue to pass legislation allowing the drug for medical and recreational purposes, the study's authors noted.
What about previous research?
Some previous studies in the JAMA Internal Medicine have suggested that marijuana may improve insulin sensitivity and pancreatic beta cell function with cannabis use for some patients with Type 2 diabetes, which is the more common form and linked to obesity.
How was the study conducted?
Scientists looked at 450 Type 1 diabetes patients in Colorado, where the drug is legal for medicinal and recreational purposes. About 30 percent of the participants were marijuana users.
Based on the hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) blood tests, the participants' diabetes was poorly controlled. A1c levels reflect a patient's 3-month average blood sugar level. In general, diabetics are advised to maintain levels below 6.5 percent, according to the report.
Cannabis users in the study had an average A1c of 8.4 percent.
And the nonusers A1c averaged 7.6 percent, which is still high but not as critical as the levels of those who used marijuana.
It was not a controlled experiment to determine or disprove a direct link between cannabis and ketoacidosis.
According to senior study author Dr. Viral Shah, there's a chance that vomiting caused by long-term marijuana use could lead to dehydration, which can increase ketones and lead to ketoacidosis. Shah is an endocrinologist at the Barbara Davis Center for Diabetes at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in Aurora.
"Elevated ketones may be life threatening if not treated on time, and patients can (have) nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, shortness of breath and rarely confusion or altered consciousness," Shah told Reuters in an email. "Diabetic ketoacidosis is an emergency and patient with diabetes should go to emergency room if they have symptoms."
Dr. Annemarie Hennessy, dean of the School of Medicine at Western Sydney University in Australia, said that more research is needed to understand the impact of marijuana on patients with varying types of diabetes.
Hennessy told Reuters that diabetic patients should avoid marijuana.
"Why cannabis would increase the likelihood of diabetic ketoacidosis is unknown," Hennessy said. "But we have also shown that in the presence of cannabis, the diabetic ketoacidosis is harder to diagnose, and therefore it may be missed, with deadly consequences."