What Does Science Say About Cannabis for Asthma Treatment?

Branna Z. October 16, 2018 0 comments

Smoking anything has inherent risk, but with the multitude of ways to consume, is cannabis for asthma treatment becoming a viable reality?

Chronic inflammation of the lungs causes asthma. This means that the airways become more narrow, leading to wheezing, chest tightness, difficulty breathing, and coughing. It affects people of all ages and according to the NIH (National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute), there are 25 million Americans living with this disease. Out of this number, about 7 million are children. Asthma kills an estimated 3000 people per year.

Cannabis for asthma treatment – could this be the solution?

There is no cure for asthma at the moment, and that is why scientists and doctors are trying to establish the best possible treatment for the patients, to minimize the occurrence and frequency of the flare-ups.

Cannabis for asthma treatment has acquired a growing interest because cannabis has good efficacy to treat different inflammatory diseases, due to its anti-inflammatory properties. The question then becomes: is it suitable for asthma and other respiratory conditions, such as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)? Both are related to the chronic inflammation. The answer to this is actually complex and contradicting.

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Conventional treatments for asthma include long-term treatment and quick-relief medicines. The first group that helps reduce airway inflammation and prevents symptoms, include corticosteroids. In these treatments, an inhaler administers the medicine directly to the lungs. The quick-relief medicine refers to the medicine that immediately manages the symptoms, stopping the dangerous flare-ups. These don’t reduce inflammation over the long term, just open the airways. Both types of drugs have adverse side effects, so there is a keen interest in seeking natural remedies that would minimize these adverse effects.

Can Cannabis Relieve Airway Inflammation?

Since cannabis can be inhaled in many different ways (water pipes, joints, vaping etc.), there is a possibility of using cannabis for asthma treatment (and others) by delivering cannabinoids directly to the lungs.  Although there have been studies indicating that cannabis smoke does not harm lung tissue, inhaling the combustive by-products of anything has inherent risk. This means that smoking is not the best method to take cannabis medicine if you have lung disease. Vaping or using an inhaler are better options.

THC is known to effectively dilate airways in the lungs and inhibit coughing. This happens even when patients are smoking cannabis; it is the exact opposite of the constriction that happens when people smoke cigarettes. CBD is known to be a strong anti-inflammatory medicine. As mentioned, there are is a caveat. Combusting any material has health risks, including cancer, tissue inflammation, and irritation of muscousal membranes in the throat. This is what we know about all types of smoke. It theoretically puts asthma and COPD patients at health risk over the long term.

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Here’s the Catch:

Here comes the contradiction: a study published in JAMA followed moderate cannabis smokers for twenty years. The shocking result was that the cannabis smokers actually had improved lung function and none of the damage that one would expect from exposure to smoke.

Other studies, however, have found that while the risk for lung damage, such as emphysema, are not raised, there is a definite impairment in large airway functioning in terms of airflow obstruction and hyperinflation, following smoking of cannabis. So, in the end, it’s not really worth the risk when there are so many other options available in the cannabis for asthma treatment.

Lung study meme that says cannabis does not damage lungs

Cannabis technology continues to improve every year. Patients with lung disease can easily access cannabinoid inhalers and nebulizers that will eliminate the need to smoke. As will vape pens and vaporizers.

In summary, asthma and COPD are difficult conditions to treat.  Cannabis for asthma treatment (and COPD) can target the inflammation in lung tissue directly has a corticosteroid inhaler. Ultimately, it’s controversial to treat lung disease by smoking. Therefore we need more research to prove the benefits of cannabis for asthma treatment.