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Researcher Examining CBD Effects on Metabolic Syndrome

November 24, 2020
Professor Rudy Ortiz is studying the effects of CBD on metabolic syndrome.

About 35 percent of Americans have metabolic syndrome, a group of risk factors that raises the risk of cardiovascular disease — the leading cause of death in the United States.

If you have three of these five issues, you have metabolic syndrome, according to the American Heart Association:

  • High blood sugars (glucose intolerance)/insulin resistance
  • Low levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol and elevated LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
  • High blood triglycerides
  • Abdominal obesity or “apple-shaped” body
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)

Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Health Sciences Research Institute member Professor Rudy Ortiz is launching a new project to find out if cannabidiol (CBD), either derived from hemp or synthesized in the lab, can have positive effects on issues within metabolic syndrome.

Ortiz will receive $300,000 over the next two years from the Center for Medical Cannabis Research (CMCR) at UC San Diego to see whether CBD can ameliorate hypertension and glucose intolerance in models of metabolic syndrome.

“There have been two different studies showing two different results, so we don’t know what the truth is,” Ortiz said. “No study has looked at this directly in a controlled setting, so our data is applicable no matter what it shows.”

Professor Anna Song, director of the Nicotine and Cannabis Policy Center at UC Merced, agreed.

“Professor Ortiz’s study will be an important contribution. Our communities are barraged with messages regarding the benefits of CBD and cannabis, but the science isn’t just there yet,” Song said. “This study will be extremely helpful in shedding some light on where CBD is helpful and where it might not help at all.”

This pilot study is one important step on the path to human trials — if the results are positive.

“We need to keep our minds open about what plant-based compounds of any kind can offer,” Ortiz said. “There has been so much stigma around cannabis, but it’s becoming more accepted, especially its medicinal benefits.”

Heart disease and Type 2 diabetes are primary outcomes of metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure can lead to stroke, heart attack, vision loss and kidney disease.

“Professor Ortiz’s work exemplifies UC Merced’s leadership in using science to explore creative solutions to medical problems that affect millions of Americans,” School of Natural Sciences Dean Betsy Dumont said. “The potential of this work to identify effective, low-cost treatments that could be made widely available is exciting.”