Cannabis for Asthma Treatment?

Lydia K. RN October 30, 2018 0 comments

Doctors have researched cannabis as an asthma treatment since the 1970s.

Most asthmatics avoid smoke for one important reason; smoke is a powerful trigger for asthmatic attacks. Truthfully, any organic material undergoing incomplete combustion will produce carcinogenic byproducts and irritate delicate lung tissue. This is potentially harmful for all people, but especially so for those with asthma. So, when asthmatics hear they should try cannabis for asthma treatment, they automatically distrust it. Science says to look again.

Studies have shown that THC is a good bronchodilator, especially when taken orally, and that it can ease the symptoms of asthma. In 1973 The New England Journal of Medicine published data that states, “Marihuana smoke, unlike cigarette smoke, causes bronchodilation rather than broncho-constriction, and unlike 0piates, does not cause central respiratory depression.”

Asthma is a chronic disease causing patient airways to narrow and swell (due to inflammation) during an attack. The results is that the asthmatic begins to wheeze, cough, gasp for breath, and may even collapse. In some cases, asthma attacks can be fatal if the victim does not receive immediate medical attention for the swelling.

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Statistics from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, indicate that over 25 million Americans suffer from asthma. The disease begins in early childhood. The most common treatments for asthma are fast acting bronchodilators (beta agonists) which reverse the narrowing of the airways so that the victim can resume a normal breathing pattern. Steroids are also commonly used in the treatment due to anti inflammatory properties.

But just like with many pharma, the side effects of long term use tend to negatively impact overall health and wellbeing. This has led patients to seek alternative treatments, and cannabis is a promising alternative.

Cannabis for asthma treatment has shown incredible promise in several important ways. Here are the top five reasons to consider cannabis for asthma treatment:

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Cannabis May Mitigate Exercise-Induced Asthma

The American Review of Respiratory Distress published a study in 1975 that looked at the ability of cannabis to reverse exercise-induced asthma. The double blind-placebo trial showed that smoking cannabis was able to “promptly correct bronchospasm and associated hyperinflation.”

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THC is a Good Bronchodilator

During an asthmatic attack, the small bronchi, which transport oxygen to the alveoli, become constricted and this diminishes their oxygen carrying capacity.

Short acting beta agonists, such as Albuterol, are commonly used bronchodilators in the treatment of acute asthmatic episodes.  A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has shown that THC has the ability to dilate respiratory passages and inhibit coughing and thus provides relief during an asthmatic attack. This is unlike smoke from tobacco which is a known broncho-constrictor.

A later study in 1974 found that the bronchodilatory effect of cannabis was less potent than that of isoproterenol, yet its effects were more durable. While another study, in 1976, found that cannabis was as effective as Salbutamol, though results with Salbutamol peaked faster.

THC Improves Lung Function

A 20-year study, including 5,000 participants from 3 different American cities, found that moderate cannabis smokers with asthma actually improved their lung function over time. These people saw improvements in both lung volume and air flow rates. Their tobacco-smoking counterparts showed progressive lung damage over time.

Cannabis is an Anti-Inflammatory Agent

The swelling of inflamed airways causes asthma attacks. Even in non-attack circumstances, the bronchioles of asthmatic sufferers remain inflamed. What happens during an attack is an exacerbation of the inflammation caused by muscular constriction of bronchial tissue. Both THC and Cannabidiol (CBD) have shown strong anti inflammatory properties. These also improve asthma over time, not merely providing relief during attacks.

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Cannabis Stops Bronchospasms

The bronchi and bronchioles are made of smooth muscle. This muscle contracts and constricts during attacks. As they do, these become spasmic and this limits airflow into the lungs.

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In 2014, researchers examined bronchial lung tissue from 88 human patients that were subjected to electrical field stimulation to cause the muscle tissue to contract. Later they administered THC, the endogenous cannabinoid 2-AG, and a number of synthetic agonists of CB1 and CB2 receptors. They found that certain agonists of the CB1-receptor, including THC, reduced muscle spasms effectively. However, the endogenous cannabinoid 2-AG had no effect on the bronchial tissue.

As a whole, studies show that smoking cannabis is not as harmful to asthmatic lungs as one would expect. It is, however, a risk that doesn’t need taking. There are so many different methods of consuming cannabis, that asthmatics can easily find a more lung-friendly version for medicine deliver. These include: vaping, nebulizer, and inhalers. Cannabis for asthma treatment very well may become a prescription of the future.

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Lydia K. RN

RN, Expert medical writer who is passionate about cannabis!