The medical use of cannabis has been widening its scope for a while now for various reasons. For one, a lot of states have started to issue medical marijuana cards for the management of different medical conditions, but at the same time, a lot of people have begun self-medicating as they’re learning about the medical benefits of cannabis.
One very common medical condition that is also discussed in the context of cannabis treatment is asthma. Asthma is very prevalent in the United States, with over 24 million Americans suffering from the condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Even though the medical benefits of marijuana use are being increasingly recognized, smoking weed for asthma kind of seems counterintuitive, or is it? Let’s see whether the cannabis plant can help with the symptoms of asthma, and in what ways.
What Kind of Condition Is Asthma?
Asthma is a chronic disease that’s characterized by long-term inflammation of the respiratory system, or more specifically, constriction of the airways and lungs. As a result of this, asthmatic patients have breathing difficulties, most notably wheezing or producing a squealing sound when they breathe.
Other common symptoms of asthma are chest tightness, shortness of breath, and fatigue, as well as coughing – especially at night, during physical exertion, or when laughing.
Asthma Attacks, Causes, and Treatment
Asthma patients can sometimes experience a sudden worsening of their symptoms, also called an asthma attack or bronchospasm. During an asthma attack, one’s breathing can become very difficult as the airways can become constricted. This happens when the body perceives an irritant and the immune system overreacts in order to protect itself from the threat. Asthma attacks can be triggered by different factors, depending on the individual, and can sometimes even be life-threatening.
The causes of asthma are still unknown, but it’s generally thought to be a combination of genetics and environmental factors, such as exposure to allergens or air pollution. The condition can be aggravated by different triggers like secondhand smoke, construction dust, pets, or certain medications, like aspirin.
Even though it’s a chronic condition, asthma can easily be managed. The treatment involves avoiding triggers and the use of corticosteroids taken with an inhaler or nebulizer, anti-inflammatories, bronchodilators (like albuterol), and anticholinergics.
Asthma and Smoking Cannabis
Smoking marijuana to treat the symptoms of asthma may sound counterintuitive at best, outrageous at worst, and for good reason.
For one, smoke, in general, is known as a major irritant on the throat and lungs because of its composition. Tobacco smoke is often linked to different lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and chronic bronchitis. Therefore, it’s natural to think of marijuana smoke as another irritant of the respiratory system.
If you’re a marijuana smoker and you suffer from asthma, you may have experienced exacerbation of the symptoms, which could lead to an asthma attack. In this case, you should definitely stop smoking marijuana.
However, this reaction isn’t necessarily because the smoke came from weed, but because any type of smoke is full of irritants and allergens. Plus, when you smoke cannabis, the smoke is usually held longer in the lungs, which can lead to further irritation and inflammation.
That said, weed may actually have some potential benefits for asthma sufferers that don’t include smoking cannabis. Cannabis is known for its analgesic properties, which can help with chest pain related to asthma. Additionally, one preclinical study has suggested that cannabis can improve bronchoconstriction and improve airflow, while another has looked into the bronchodilatory activity of different doses of cannabinoids.
However, Vaping May Be a Better Option
Vaporizers or vapes are becoming very prominent nowadays and their design is constantly improving to provide weed users with the best experience. Vapes don’t combust the plant material at high temperatures, but they vaporize it in order to release the active ingredients without the harmful byproducts. This makes the vapor lighter than marijuana smoke and overall more tolerable.
Even though vaping may still irritate the throat, this irritation is much less severe and you will still be getting the active ingredients from the weed. In fact, vaporizing weed can provide instant relief when you need it because the vapor goes straight to your lungs. Many users self-medicate by vaping dry herbs or concentrates, depending on their individual needs. Take note, however, that using high-quality vape and cannabis from a reputable company is crucial.
Can CBD Oil Also Help Asthma Patients?
CBD (cannabidiol) is known as the non-psychoactive cannabinoid that is often used for medicinal purposes. Even though it’s not FDA-approved, CBD oil is commonly used for the management of different conditions.
CBD is known for its anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic properties, which can have a beneficial effect as an asthma treatment. It can help the muscles around the respiratory system to relax and allow for better airflow. In fact, many people use CBD oil to self-medicate and find relief from their symptoms.
CBD oil can be taken sublingually for faster absorption, but it can also be vaped if you can tolerate the vapor. It’s also considered safe and well-tolerated, with minimal chances of side effects.
Can You Also Use Edibles?
Edibles, like chocolates, candies, and gummies, and even cannabis capsules, may seem like the most obvious choice for treating asthma because they are ingested.
However, whereas vaping cannabis and sublingual administration of CBD oil provide an almost instant relief, edibles take at least 90 minutes to start working. They need time to start interacting with the endocannabinoid receptors in the body because they need to go through the digestive system first. Therefore, edibles are more suited for long-term treatment or as a sleep aid rather than used for immediate relief.
Is There a Medical Marijuana Prescription for Asthmatic Patients?
Even though medical marijuana cards are issued for many medical conditions, presently, asthma isn’t included on the list of qualifying conditions as there isn’t enough research on it yet. That said, in some states, qualifying physicians have the authority to write a prescription for the treatment of any medical condition which they consider treatable.
Aside from that, there is anecdotal evidence of people self-medicating with cannabis in different forms, most commonly by vaping and taking CBD oil.
Are There Any Adverse Reactions of Marijuana Use for Asthma?
Unless you experience an allergic reaction to marijuana, there isn’t any evidence that marijuana on its own causes adverse effects on asthma patients. The only adverse reaction that you can experience would be the usual side effects that are caused by high-THC strains, such as heightened anxiety, paranoia, cottonmouth, and red eyes. If you use strains that are higher in CBD, the risk of experiencing these side effects will be lower.
Final Thoughts – Can You Actually Smoke Weed If You Have Asthma?
If your symptoms are mild and you don’t experience frequent asthma attacks, especially during or after smoking weed, then yes, you could probably still smoke cannabis. However, bear in mind that even though your symptoms are okay now, asthma is unpredictable and may change the way it manifests over time.
Marijuana smoke is still irritating, so the best thing would be to not expose yourself to any potential irritants to prevent your symptoms from exacerbating. You can try vaporizing weed if it helps, or to be even safer, you can also try using CBD oil. In any case, getting proper medical advice is essential for treating asthma before you try self-medicating.