Obesity and type 2 diabetes are, to some extent, an expression of long-term, low-grade inflammation. An unhealthy diet taxes the body and wears down one’s ability to regulate blood sugar. So, scientists are researching ways of activating the CB2 receptor — the major immunomodulator of the endocannabinoid system — to aid the treatment of diabetes.

A recent publication by Indian scientists in The European Journal of Pharmacology; described the effect of the CB2 agonist β-caryophyllene (BCP) on type 2 diabetes. BCP is a terpene present in cannabis and many other dark green, leafy vegetables. Much research has demonstrated that dietary BCP has anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant effects. The Indian scientists reviewed the cellular actions of BCP and its consequences in diabetes.

BCP directly activates CB2 receptors on insulin-producing β cells in the pancreas, leading to insulin release. But CB2 activation by BCP also has a positive effect on diabetic complications, like nephropathy (kidney damage and loss of function), retinopathy (eye damage and partial blindness), cardiomyopathy (heart damage), and neuropathy (nerve damage and hypersensitivity to pain). Activating CB2 — whether with BCP, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), or another compound — has the potential to limit many of these problems.

Depletion of CB2 receptors in the kidney is implicated in chronic kidney disease, but activation of CB2 with BCP has been shown to limit kidney damage in mouse models of diabetes. Cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of death among diabetic patients, in which inflammation leads to fibrosis, but CB2 activity reduces this (whereas activating CB1 receptors often worsens fibrotic conditions in animal models.)

Thus far, however, there have been few studies on BCP or other CB2 agonists for treating the cardiovascular complications of diabetes. As with most research on the endocannabinoid system, the authors conclude by highlighting promising preclinical results, but point out that there are few, if any, clinical studies to validate the excitement.

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