Associations Between Cannabis Use, Abdominal Fat Phenotypes and Insulin Traits

Charlotte E. Stuart, Juyeon Ko, Gisselle C. Alarcon Ramos, Andre E. Modesto, Jaelim Cho, Maxim S. Petrov


Background: General obesity has been linked to dysregulation of the endocannabinoid system in humans. However, there is a lack of studies on the relationship between cannabis use and specific abdominal fat phenotypes. The aim was to investigate the associations between cannabis use and magnetic resonance imaging-derived fat phenotypes, as well as indices of insulin sensitivity and insulin secretion.

Methods: In this cross-sectional study, magnetic resonance imaging was used to quantify subcutaneous fat volume (SFV), visceral fat volume (VFV), intra-hepatic fat deposition (IHFD), intra-pancreatic fat deposition (IPFD) and skeletal muscle fat deposition (SMFD) by two independent observers. Insulin sensitivity was determined based on HOMA-IS, Raynaud index and Matsuda index, whereas insulin secretion was determined based on HOMA-β, insulinogenic index 30’ and insulinogenic index 60’. A validated questionnaire was used to ascertain participants’ cannabis use. Linear regression models were constructed, adjusting for demographics, glycated hemoglobin, physical activity, tobacco smoking and alcohol consumption.

Results: A total of 120 individuals were included. Cannabis use explained 9.2% of variance in IHFD, 4.4% in SMFD, 3.4% in VFV, 0.4% in SFV and 0.2% in IPFD. Regular cannabis users had significantly greater IHFD compared with never users, in both the unadjusted (P = 0.002) and all adjusted (P = 0.002; P = 0.008) analyses. The other fat phenotypes did not differ significantly between either regular or non-regular users compared with never users. Regular cannabis users had significantly greater insulin secretion (as defined by the insulinogenic index 60’) compared with never users, in both the unadjusted (P = 0.049) and all adjusted (P = 0.003; P = 0.004) analyses. Cannabis use explained 20.3% of variance in the insulinogenic index 60’, but was not significantly associated with the other indices of insulin secretion. There were no significant differences in indices of insulin sensitivity in either regular or non-regular cannabis users compared with never users.

Conclusion: Regular cannabis use may be a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (but not IPFD) and may alter the neuromodulation of insulin secretion. Further investigations are now warranted to elucidate the mechanisms underlying these associations.

J Clin Med Res. 2020;12(6):377-388


Cannabis use; Intra-hepatic fat; Intra-pancreatic fat; Skeletal muscle fat; Visceral fat; Subcutaneous fat; Magnetic resonance imaging; Insulin traits

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