Cannabis has been used medicinally for thousands of years – even ancient civilizations have benefited from it. As marijuana legalization is increasing, and marijuana laws are changing, medical marijuana is growing in popularity. Even scientific studies on medical conditions that marijuana could affect or treat are on the rise. Among the ones that can be treated with marijuana are chronic pain, MS, epilepsy, insomnia, and other conditions.
Since more than 25 million Americans have asthma according to statistics done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s crucial that the effects of weed on asthma are more thoroughly researched. For the purpose of this article, we’ll go over the potential relation between using weed to treat asthma and what the current research suggests.
What is Asthma?
- Tightness in the chest;
- Shortness of breath.
Asthma is commonly diagnosed in childhood and it’s a chronic condition for which there’s no cure, only treatment. Some patients experience mild asthma symptoms which can often be treated with medication, while others experience worse symptoms over time.
The cause of asthma can be genetics, or respiratory or viral infections as an infant, though the exact causes aren’t known. The aim for people who live with asthma is to manage the symptoms and keep the condition under control in order to prevent complications.
The most common treatment for asthma is using an inhaler that helps the airways open up so that more air moves in and out of the lungs, and they’re often the first thing that asthma patients go for during an asthma attack (which can be life-threatening for some patients). For severe asthma, doctors prescribe different medicines and other treatments like:
- Inhaled corticosteroids;
- Leukotriene tablets.
While more natural ways of managing the symptoms include:
- Breathing exercises;
Types of Asthma
While asthmatic symptoms are the same among asthma patients, there are several types of asthma conditions that exist.
EIA or EIB
This type of asthma is induced by physical activity, and it’s known as exercise-induced asthma (EIA) or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB). While physical activity can result in asthma symptoms, staying active and exercising keeps you healthy. Therefore, asthma patients should still work out and devise a plan to keep the symptoms under control during and after exercising.
Patients who have a family history of asthma or allergies are more likely to develop asthma, and some even develop allergic asthma which is when you have both asthma and allergies.
Childhood asthma develops in children younger than five years and affects millions of children around the world.
Occupation asthma is common for people who work in places where they inhale dust, gasses, fumes, or other potentially harmful substances.
There is a huge interest in finding out whether medical marijuana can help reduce the symptoms of asthma, and this article focuses on exactly that.
Medical Marijuana for Asthma Treatment
A 1973 study by Dr. Donald Tashkin, a lung expert and professor of medicine and UCLA, discovered that marijuana has effects as a bronchodilator that widens the airways of healthy and asthmatic people after smoking it. The research of Dr. Tashkin and his team paved the way for other researchers to dive into researching how medical marijuana may help with asthma.
This has been confirmed by a 2020 study that researched the use of medical cannabis in asthmatic patients. However, smoking cannabis may irritate the airways and result in patients developing chronic bronchitis. Therefore, edibles like weed brownies, gummies, CBD oil, and tinctures have become the most common cannabinoid asthma treatment, as opposed to smoking and vaping.
Below, we’ll go over the properties of cannabis and why it may aid asthma patients.
Medical marijuana has anti-inflammatory properties, therefore it reduces the inflammation of the respiratory system, opens up the airways, and reduces coughing and shortness of breath. A 2012 study concluded that asthma sufferers with moderate cannabis-smoking habits slightly increased the function of their lungs by smoking cannabis.
Asthma attacks are characterized by involuntary contractions and muscle spasms that cannabis may reduce. When the cannabinoid receptors are activated because of the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD) present in the body, they relax the body and decrease involuntary movement.
Stress and Anxiety
Cannabis decreases stress and anxiety which is a contributing factor to asthma, so it may be used as an asthma treatment.
A 2015 study done in Brazil, revealed that CBD may reduce cytokine production of mucus in the lungs which may help asthma patients.
The Risks of Using Medical Cannabis for Asthma Patients
Depending on the cannabis consumption methods, users may experience some side effects.
Smoking marijuana can act as a lung irritant that may worsen asthma attacks in some people and can lead to a list of side effects including:
- Increased sputum;
- Chronic cough;
- Difficulty breathing;
- Tightness in the chest.
When vaporizing or “vaping,” the user inhales the vapor from the vape pen. Vaporizers contain liquid cannabis extracts and heat the extract at a lower temperature, therefore, they don’t burn a lot of the important active ingredients.
However, a recent 2020 review of popular studies related to the dangers of vaping, as well as this one for the dangers of smoking cannabis, showed that vaping may increase the risk of lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and chronic bronchitis, heart disease, laryngeal cancer, and other conditions.
It’s not certain that smoking cannabis increases the risk of developing lung cancer, though marijuana smoke similar to tobacco smoke, contains cancer-causing chemicals (although they’re significantly lower than those in tobacco smoke).
Apart from smoking it in joints, blunts, vaporizers, bongs, or pipes, medical marijuana can be used in other forms like:
- Cannabis extracts and tinctures;
- Topicals and creams;
- Drinkables and edibles;
- THC and CBD capsules.
Since asthma is sometimes a reaction to allergens in the environment and causes the immune system to go into overdrive, marijuana use may reduce the effects of the allergy. These types of cannabis products have more whole plant benefits that tend to reduce the symptoms of asthma and improve breathing.
Final Thoughts on Asthma and Cannabis Use
Smoking marijuana over time may lead to decreased lung function and other related respiratory conditions, so it wouldn’t be advised for patients suffering from asthma to consume cannabis by inhaling it. That involves smoking, vaping, or using smoking devices like bongs, pipes, dabs, and others.
However, using marijuana in other forms may prove to be beneficial for asthma patients, though more research is needed on the subject in order to confirm its safety and effectiveness.
If you do decide to use medical marijuana for asthma treatment, make sure you speak to a licensed physician, since this article is only intended to provide information, not to give medical advice on the subject. Do additional research and consult with your doctor when it comes to deciding what forms of marijuana may benefit your case.