Nunavik Inuit health study from 2004 continues to churn out info

Recent study points to link between marijuana use and reduced risk of diabetes


Research from Laval university points to an association between marijuana smoking and diabetes prevention. (FILE PHOTO)

Research from Laval university points to an association between marijuana smoking and diabetes prevention. (FILE PHOTO)

OULU, FINLAND — Results from the 2004 Qanuippitaa (How are we?) health survey of Inuit in Nunavik continue to surface, even across the Atlantic Ocean, at the International Congress on Circumpolar Health now underway in Oulu, Finland.

Among the latest research results from the 2004 study: if you’re an Inuk from Nunavik and smoke marijuana, you may be at less risk of developing diabetes because you’ll have less body fat.

The research came out of a voluntary survey on drug use, filled out by 786 respondents in the larger 2004 Inuit health survey, which found that 57 per cent or nearly six in 10 people surveyed had used marijuana during the previous year.

Using results from the marijuana-use survey and physical exams, researchers from Laval university have now determined that the weed-smoking Nunavimmiut had a lower body mass index, which measures body fat based on height and weight.

Participants’ blood samples also had a lower fasting insulin level. This shows how well insulin helps your body digest sugar, important in preventing Type 2 diabetes.

Information on the association between smoking marijuana and reduced obesity was discussed earlier this year in Nunatsiaq News.

But by far the strongest association found by the research on “Cannabis use and insulin resistance in the Inuit population” was that, if you do smoke marijuana, there will be even more of an impact on your weight when you’ve never been a smoker or if you are a former smoker, researcher Michel Lucas said June 10 at the Oulu conference.

Overall, the participants in the 2004 survey had high obesity rates, very high tobacco use and a sedentary lifestyle, but they also had diabetes rates slightly lower than the rest of Canada, which is why the Laval researchers started to look at other variables.

The health study information on drug use showed that the total effect of past-year cannabis use on insulin was “significant,” Lucas said: body mass was always lower, fat mass was lower, and the fasting insulin level (taken when you haven’t eaten) was lower.

Past-year marijuana use was associated with 0.56 lower likelihood of obesity, the researchers found.

However, if looks as if the association between diabetes and marijuana-smoking was due to the lower fat of the weed-smokers, so marijuana is not “a magic bullet,” Lucas said.

The weight-control association could be due to the energy it takes someone to smoke, because marijuana increases the heart rate even more than smoking tobacco does.

The Laval researchers aren’t sure if their findings would hold true for other groups of people, because Inuit may have “a particular metabolic profile or reaction to cannabis that may limit the generalizability of our results.”

Among the other information from the 2004 health study in Nunavik, as well as from earlier studies in the region from 1992: the lowering of contaminant levels in people’s blood due to global restrictions on pollutants and dietary advisories.

Those at the conference also heard June 10 from Finnish health expert Marjo-Riita Järvelin about the usefulness of these large population health studies, which she has been involved in.

Results from follow-ups on studies done in northern Finland in 1967 and 1986 continue to provide a vast amount of information to doctors and policy makers, she said.

The surveys have highlighted the associations between risk elements like smoking, bad housing, unemployment, age of a baby’s mother and whether a pregnancy is wanted, low birth weight, childhood obesity, health and mental health right into adulthood. These have been used to change policy — and also, over the long-term, have helped cut health care costs, Järvelin said.

Plans are currently underway for a 2016 edition of the Nunavik Inuit health survey to provide updated baseline information on the health of Nunavimmiut.

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