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Study Finds Marijuana Helps Control Blood Sugar, Waistlines

A young man lights a marijuana cigarette during a demonstration demanding a new law on cannabis in Montevideo, May 8, 2013.
Marijuana has been used for centuries to relieve pain, improve mood and increase appetite. A new study finds that the herb also has a positive effect on blood sugar levels, suggesting it could be helpful in diabetes control.

Researchers analyzed data collected from more than 4,600 patients who completed a drug-use questionnaire and provided blood samples. Nearly half had never used marijuana, about 2,000 others had used it in the past and the rest were current users.

Participants who reported using marijuana in the previous month had the lowest levels of fasting insulin and the highest levels of the so-called 'good' cholesterol - indicators of a lower risk for both diabetes and heart disease.

The study also found the marijuana users tended to have smaller waistlines. Large waist circumference, typically associated with obesity, is linked to diabetes risk.

Although the U.S. government banned marijuana in 1937, its social use has continued, with an estimated 17.4 million Americans reporting regular or occasional use of the drug. Two states recently legalized recreational marijuana, and nearly half the states and the District of Columbia have legalized or decriminalized medical-use marijuana, for patients suffering from glaucoma or the effects of chemotherapy or HIV/AIDS.

This new study, appearing in The American Journal of Medicine, highlights the need for more research into the short and long-term effects of marijuana in a variety of clinical settings.