Does Marijuana Adversely Impact the Endocrine System?
More than 22 million Americans use marijuana, both medicinally and recreationally, according to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, and that number can be expected to rise as more states make its use legal. Cannabis is known to improve pain tolerance 1 and can stimulate the appetite in patients whose illnesses and treatment regimens inhibit appetite.
Given the limited understanding of how marijuana affects the endocrine system, a group of researchers set out to discover whether marijuana has an effect on thyroid function and autoimmune conditions.
People who are obesity and/or have diabetes should not smoke marijuana given its role in activating endocannabinoid receptors, which may increase hunger and have an adverse effect on the metabolic system, including blood sugar and body weight.
The team from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Maimonides Medical Center, both in New York, examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of adults who had thyroid laboratory results and responses to a questionnaire about marijuana use for frequency. 2 Results were separated by those who had used it in the past (more than 30 days ago) or were current users (within the last 30 days).
“Our data analysis suggested that among recent marijuana users, the rate of TSH level within the normal range was significantly higher than the rate of TSH within the normal range of subjects who reported past use or never used marijuana,” study author, Roja Motaghedi, MD, told EndocrineWeb.
The researchers found that the most recent marijuana users were significantly less likely to exhibit elevated thyrotropin (TSH) and anti-thyroperoxidase antibody (TPOAb) levels than past users or non-users. 2 Once the data were controlled for confounding factors, recent marijuana use still correlated with a TSH level below 5.6 IU/mL, although not with a negative TPOAb level.
Fortunately, the most recent users tended to be younger males, 2 a group that does not typically suffer from diabetes or thyroid issues.
“However, data on amount and timing of marijuana use was collected from self-reported questionnaires and could be biased,” said Dr. Motaghedi, associate professor of clinical pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York. Some of the answers seemed to be exaggerated, and I would imagine some subjects did not report accurately due to privacy issues surrounding the topic.”
Dr. Motaghedi also noted that her team did not have information on which subjects might have active thyroid disease or what medications they might be taking, preventing them from going so far as to recommend marijuana as a thyroid or endocrine system treatment. The study also didn’t gather data on how frequently current cannabis smokers smoked, which potentially could have affected their bloodwork.
Marijuana’s Effect on the Endocrine System
At this point, it is reasonable to say that people who should not be smoking marijuana include those who are obese and/or have diabetes, said Elena Christofides, MD, an endocrinologist and editorial board member of EndocrineWeb.
“We know that activation of endocannabinoid receptors does increase hunger,” she said, adding that the effects go beyond appetite and include having an adverse impact on the metabolic system, including blood sugar and body weight.
Her assertion is bolstered by the National Institutes of Health’s the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, 3 which looked at marijuana and blood-sugar levels in 3,034 participants 25 years after they were first assessed for cardiovascular risks in the 1980s. Participants who indicated that they were still using cannabis had a 65% higher risk of prediabetes than those who were not. And, adults who said that they had smoked at least 100 times in their life had a 49% higher risk of prediabetes. The risk of cannabis use did not appear to extend to the development of type 2 diabetes.
However, several other studies have had results that contradict the CARDIA study findings. A Harvard Medical School study found lower fasting insulin levels and less insulin resistance among marijuana users 4 and Michigan State University researchers analyzed eight different studies with findings that indicated a 30% reduction in diabetes risk among marijuana users. 5
Best Practice Tips When Advising About Marijuana Use
Dr. Christofides welcomes studies that focus on marijuana use, considering the drug’s popularity and increasing legal status.
“I’m glad to see that some of the prejudices about looking at marijuana use are going by the wayside,” she said. However, clinicians must be prepared to address the temptation for use as an educational opportunity.
She recommended that endocrinologists do the following:
- Ask about marijuana use in all patients, particularly the ones with diabetes and/or who are obese. Dr. Christofides finds that these patients tend to be unaware of their particular risks.
- Actively recommend against marijuana use if patients are diabetic and/or obese.
- Be nonjudgmental. Recognize that the stigma of marijuana is receding and invite open discussion.
- Let patients know that the medical community is still largely unaware of the impact of marijuana on the endocrine system.
- If patients indicate that they may want to begin smoking marijuana (in permitted states), recommend regular blood work that can be used as a baseline for new symptoms or abnormal lab results down the road.
1. Russo EB. Cannabinoids in the management of difficult to treat pain. Ther Clin Risk Manag. 2008;4(1):245–259.
2. Malhotra S, Heptulla RA, Homel P, Motaghedi R. Effect of Marijuana Use on Thyroid Function and Autoimmunity. Thyroid. 2016 Published online ahead of print. December 5, 2016.
3. Bancks MP, Pletcher MJ, Kertesz SG, Sidney S, Rana JS, Schreiner PJ. Marijuana Use and Risk of Prediabetes and Diabetes by Middle Adultood: the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. Diabetologia. 2015;58(12):2736-44.
4. Prenner EA, Buettner H, Mittleman MA. The Impact of Marijuana Use on Glucose, Insulin, and Insulin Resistance among US Adults. Am J Med. 2013;126(7):583-589.
5. Alshaarawy O, Anthony JC. Cannabis Smoking and Diabetes Mellitus: Results from Meta-analysis with Eight Independent Replication Samples. Epidemiology. 2015;26(4):597-600.
Cannabis is known to have a positive role in reducing pain but its effect on metabolism and the endocrine system appear less favorable. Researchers examined the use of cannabis in thyroid function, finding a significantly elevated TSH among current users who were typically young males whose risk of thyroid or diabetes is low.
Updated on April 15, 2020. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
The symptoms of a thyroid disorder — including fatigue, sleep problems, anxiety, and depression — can take a toll on your quality of life. Thyroid disorders are relatively common, as about 20 million people in the U.S. have them in some form. Fortunately, you have treatment options, including medical cannabis for thyroid disorders, that can help ease these symptoms so you can go back to feeling more like yourself again.
How Marijuana Can Be an Effective Treatment for Thyroid Disorders
When your thyroid is overactive or underactive, you can experience many symptoms, since the gland plays such an integral role in regulating your body. Cannabinoids have pain-relieving, anxiety reducing, anti-inflammatory properties and more that help significantly in managing the symptoms of thyroid disorders.
Medical marijuana for thyroid disorders can treat a multitude of these symptoms, such as:
1. Pain — Medical weed can help relieve pain associated with Graves’ disease. Conventional therapies often lead to painful side effects like joint pain. Research shows cannabis reduces pain levels significantly.
Numerous strains of the cannabis plant can reduce pain and discomfort considerably. Indica strains seem to help alleviate pain better than hybrids and Sativas, according to patients. Some Indica strains to try to reduce your symptom of pain include:
- Afghan Kush
- Granddaddy Purple
That doesn’t mean Sativas and hybrids don’t work for pain. You might want to try out these alternative strains, which have also helped many patients find relief:
- Girl Scout Cookies
- Jack Herer
2. Inflammation: Certain thyroid disorders, like thyroiditis, cause inflammation of the thyroid gland. Cannabis is very effective at reducing inflammation. The cannabinoids in cannabis work like anti-inflammatory drugs. Try these strains to help reduce your symptoms of inflammation:
3. Weight loss: We all know how marijuana gives you the “munchies.” If you’re struggling with weight loss due to your thyroid disorder, cannabis can help. Some strains to try include:
- Cherry Pie
- Super Silver Haze
4. Anxiety and depression: Some patients struggle with anxiety and depression, which also impact their quality of life. For these individuals, the following strains can help:
- Pineapple Express
- Granddaddy Purple
5. Thyroid hormone balance: Research shows cannabinoids in marijuana for thyroid disorders play a significant role in hyperthyroidism treatment by regulating your body’s balanced energies, especially in your endocrine system. Medical marijuana’s cannabinoids respond well to the natural, innate cannabinoid substances in your body. Hyperthyroidism is an imbalance in your body’s normal functioning. CBD helps maintain and balance the body’s homeostasis.
- Cannatonic (hybrid)
- Blue Dream (hybrid)
- Pineapple Kush (hybrid)
Likewise, the European Journal of Endocrinology published a study in 2002 showcasing evidence of functional thyroid CB receptors in rats being able to modify the release of both T3 and T4 hormones. According to the study, a 30 percent hormone release decrease occurred within four hours of administering CBD.
6. Nausea and vomiting: There have been plenty of studies and anecdotal evidence that cannabis helps treat nausea and vomiting. Some strains to try include:
- Blue Diesel
7. Fatigue: Sativa strains can help with fatigue because they’re energizing and stimulating. Some of the best strains, however, include:
- Juicy Fruit
- Durban Poison
- Jack Herer
Best Methods of Marijuana Treatment for the Side Effects and Symptoms of Thyroid Disorders
There are nearly endless cannabis strains, and each has different effects. Smoking marijuana for thyroid disorders might not be the best choice of delivery method, since it could harm your lungs. Fortunately, smoking is not your only option. There are healthier choices for receiving your cannabis treatment, including vaping, edibles, topicals, tinctures, CBD oils and more. Many people like the convenience of vaping, while others prefer edibles.
Keep in mind, cannabis can have some side effects, including hunger, drowsiness, red eyes, dry mouth, thirst, and short-term memory loss.
Start Your Cannabis and Thyroid Disorder Treatment Today
Not all states have legalized cannabis. However, many have passed laws that allow the medicinal use of the herb. Be sure you check your state’s laws to see if you qualify for cannabis for thyroid disorders. If so, book your appointment here at Marijuana Doctors to find a cannabis doctor to provide you with your recommendation so you can get started on treatment as soon as possible and begin improving your life.
What Are Thyroid Disorders?
Thyroid disorders are conditions affecting your thyroid gland, which is responsible for regulating multiple metabolic processes throughout your body. The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that wraps around your windpipe in the front of your neck.
Your thyroid produces vital hormones using iodine. The primary hormone the gland produces is thyroxine (T4). The gland releases a small portion of T4, which converts to the most active hormone, triiodothyronine (T3).
A feedback mechanism that involves the brain regulates the thyroid gland’s function. Various types of thyroid disorders affect either its purpose or structure. When you have low thyroid hormone levels, for example, your brain’s hypothalamus produces a thyrotropin-releasing hormone.
That causes your pituitary gland to release a thyroid-stimulating hormone. Then, the TSH stimulates your thyroid gland to release more of the T4.
Because your hypothalamus and pituitary gland control your thyroid gland, disorders of these tissues may also affect the function of your thyroid, causing thyroid problems.
Types and Symptoms of Thyroid Disorders
There are numerous types of thyroid disorders. Six common types are:
With hyperthyroidism, your thyroid gland is overactive, producing too much of its hormone. Hyperthyroidism impacts about 1 percent of women.
Hyperthyroid symptoms may include:
- Heat intolerance
- Weight loss
- Frequent bowel movements
- Sleep disturbances
- Irritability and nervousness
- Thyroid gland enlargement
Women are up to 10 times more likely to develop hyperthyroidism than men.
Hypothyroidism is the opposite of hyperthyroidism. It’s underactive and can’t make enough of its hormone. Nearly 5 percent of people over 12 years old in the U.S. have hypothyroidism, though the condition is usually mild.
Hypothyroidism symptoms may include:
- Weight gain
- Memory problems
- Cold intolerance
- Slower heart rate
- Memory problems
- Brittle or dry hair
- Higher cholesterol levels
- Irritability and depression
Hypothyroidism can cause a health problem called myxedema coma if left untreated for long periods of time. Myxedema coma is a potentially fatal but rare condition requiring immediate hormone treatment.
3. Hashimoto’s Disease
Also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It affects around 14 million Americans. While anyone of any age can develop it, it typically affects middle-aged women. Hashimoto’s disease occurs when your immune system mistakenly attacks your thyroid gland, eventually destroying it and its ability to produce hormones.
Symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease may include:
- Mild weight gain
- Intolerance to cold
- Thinning, dry hair
- Dry skin
- Goiter or enlarged thyroid
- Puffy, pale face
- Irregular and heavy menstruation
4. Graves’ Disease
Graves’ disease commonly causes hyperthyroidism and affects around one in 200 individuals in the U.S.
It’s an autoimmune disorder that also occurs when your immune system attacks your thyroid gland by mistake. When this happens, it can cause your thyroid gland to overproduce the hormone that regulates metabolism.
Symptoms of Graves’ disease may include:
- Hand tremors
- Difficulty sleeping
- Irregular or increased heartbeat
- Excessive sweating
- Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
- Vision problems and bulging eyes
- Altered menstrual cycle
Goiter is a benign enlargement of your thyroid gland. Iodine deficiency is a common cause of goiter. Estimates show it affects around 200 million of the 800 million individuals who have an iodine deficiency worldwide.
If it grows big enough, a goiter could cause specific symptoms such as:
- Difficulties swallowing or breathing
- Tightness or swelling in your neck
- Hoarseness of voice
- Wheezing or coughing
6. Thyroid Nodules
Thyroid nodules are a type of growth that forms in or on your thyroid gland. Around 1 percent of men and 5 percent of women have thyroid nodules big enough to feel. Approximately 50 percent of individuals will develop nodules too tiny to detect without an X-ray or another scan.
Some thyroid nodules make thyroid hormone that causes irregularly high levels of the hormone in the bloodstream. When this occurs, the symptoms you may experience are similar to those of hyperthyroidism and may include:
- Weight loss
- High pulse rate
- Clammy skin
- Increased appetite
If the thyroid nodules are the result of Hashimoto’s disease, the symptoms you may experience are similar to those of hypothyroidism and may include:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance
Causes of Thyroid Disorders
Thyroid disorders typical result in either too much thyroid hormone, as is the case with hyperthyroidism, or too little thyroid hormone, as with hypothyroidism.
Thyroid hormone overproduction involves all forms of hyperthyroidism, but the disorder could occur in a few other ways, such as:
- Toxic adenomas — You develop nodules in your thyroid gland that start secreting thyroid hormones, upsetting the chemical balance of your body — some goiters could contain a few of these nodules.
- Graves’ disease — Excessive thyroid hormone production
- Cancerous growths or pituitary gland malfunctions in your thyroid gland — While rare, you can also develop hyperthyroidism from these causes.
- Subacute thyroiditis — A thyroid inflammation is causing your gland to “leak” extra hormones, leading to temporary hyperthyroidism that typically lasts several weeks, but could persist for months.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the body fails to produce enough thyroid hormones. Because the energy production of your body needs certain amounts of thyroid hormones, a decrease in hormone production results in lower energy levels.
Hypothyroidism can occur due to:
- Thyroid gland removal — A doctor may have to destroy or surgically remove the thyroid chemically.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis — The body attacks your thyroid tissue in this autoimmune disorder. The tissue dies eventually, and hormone production stops.
- Lithium — There are implications this drug causes hypothyroidism.
- Exposure to extreme amounts of iodide — Sinus and cold medications, certain dyes provided before specific X-rays and the heart medication amiodarone could expose you to excessive amounts of iodine. You could have a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism if you’ve had thyroid issues in the past.
Physical Effects of Thyroid Disorders
If you have an untreated or improperly treated thyroid condition, you could suffer serious health problems.
An overactive thyroid can cause numerous problems like:
- Heart failure or difficulties with heart rhythm and rapid heart rate
- Osteoporosis, or brittle bones
- Swollen, red skin, especially on the feet and shins
- Eye problems like double or blurred vision, bulging eyes or vision loss
- Thyrotoxic crisis — the worsening of symptoms leading to rapid heart rate, fever and delirium requiring immediate medical attention
An underactive thyroid can lead to a range of complications like:
- A goiter or enlarged thyroid causing issues with breathing and swallowing
- Birth defects
- Nerve damage causing numbness, tingling and pain in the legs, arms or other affected areas
- Mental health problems like depression
- High cholesterol leading to heart disease
- Premature birth or miscarriage
- Myxedema, a life-threatening, but rare, condition that involves extreme cold intolerance, drowsiness, and lethargy leading to unconsciousness. Myxedema requires immediate medical attention.
Mental Effects of Thyroid Disorders
A thyroid disorder can also affect your mood, mainly causing either depression or anxiety. Typically, the more severe your thyroid disorder is, the more severe your mood changes will be.
If you have hyperthyroidism, you could experience restlessness, unusual nervousness, irritability and anxiety.
If you have hypothyroidism, you could experience mild to severe fatigue and depression.
Treatment that works by blocking your body’s ability to produce new thyroid hormone or one that replaces missing thyroid hormone typically helps improve both physical and mental symptoms thyroid disorders can cause.
Thyroid Disorders History
In 1656, Thomas Wharton coined the term “thyroid.” Graves’ disease takes its name from Robert Graves, a doctor in Ireland who diagnosed a case of goiter with bulging eyes in 1835. Charles H. Mayo introduced the term “hyperthyroidism” in 1910. Finally, in 2004, researchers linked neurological and thyroid abnormalities with the monocarboxylate transporter gene.
Current Treatments Available for Thyroid Disorders and Their Side Effects
Medication and sometimes surgery can treat thyroid disorders. The treatment you receive will depend on which thyroid disease you have.
1. Thyroid Medications
The doctor may give you medication if you have hypothyroidism to replace the missing thyroid hormone. They may provide you with synthetic thyroid hormone you take orally in pill form. If you have hyperthyroidism, medicines can help decrease thyroid hormone production or keep it from releasing from the gland.
Side effects of synthetic thyroid hormone pills include:
- Hot flashes
- A headache
- Sensitivity to heat
Your doctor may also prescribe you medicine to help manage hyperthyroidism symptoms, such as an increased heart rate. If medications can’t control hyperthyroidism, the doctor may perform radioactive ablation, where they provide you with iodine doses labeled with radioactivity to destroy thyroid tissue selectively.
2. Thyroid Surgery
The doctor may recommend surgery to remove a hyperfunctioning nodule or large goiter in the gland. Surgery is necessary if the doctor suspects you have thyroid cancer. If the surgeon can’t remove the thyroid gland entirely, you’ll need to take synthetic thyroid hormone for the rest of your life. The doctor may also recommend surgery for Graves’ disease, which was the preferred treatment before the introduction of anti-thyroid medicines and RAI therapy. However, this surgery is not very common anymore.
Recent Developments in Thyroid Disorders
Over the past 10 years, there have been advances in the field of autoimmune thyroid disease (AITD) concerning the available therapeutic and diagnostic techniques, along with the clinical consensus. The modernized clinical guidelines enable doctors to identify the most current and reasonable methods to manage thyroid disease properly.
Issues with ongoing discussions include:
- Reconsideration of long-term low antithyroid drug therapy doses in Graves’ disease patients
- Subgroup identification of Hashimoto’s disease
- LT4+LT3 combination therapy in individuals with hypothyroidism
More studies and research on pathophysiologic mechanisms, as well as AITD genetic backgrounds, will assist in developing the individualized and definite therapeutic techniques of autoimmune thyroid disease.
Medical marijuana can help relieve your Thyroid Disorders. Learn more about treatment options, strains and what symptoms cannabis can help you with.