Asthma is a condition that can greatly reduce quality of life. But recent research has shown that cannabis can effectively treat the symptoms associated with asthma. Curious? Read on to find out more.
Asthma is one of the most common diseases in America. We’re all familiar with the shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing it can cause. And as such, it’s hard to imagine that any product smoked could be an effective treatment for this unpleasant condition. Yet recent research has shown that cannabis may be a promising solution in helping to reduce symptoms of asthma. Read on to find out more about how this plant can provide relief.
What is Asthma?
According to the CDC, 1 in 13 people has asthma, a chronic condition that causes airways in the lungs to swell and become inflamed, making it difficult for asthma sufferers to get air into and out of their lungs. There are many external factors that can trigger asthma, including changes in weather, dust, chemicals, smoke, and pet dander. Inhaling these triggers makes the inside of your lungs swell and can lead to a flare-up, which is commonly known as an asthma attack.
Asthma can start at any age. It often develops when people are very young and goes away as their lungs mature, but it’s possible for the condition to come back later in life. Sometimes people get asthma for the first time when they are older. It can be serious and even life-threatening. While there is no cure for asthma, the condition can be managed, and sufferers can live a normal, healthy life.
Asthma and Cannabis
Cannabis is a plant that contains several cannabinoids, of which CBD and THC are the most common. THC produces psychoactive effects, while CBD does not. But both provide health benefits that could make them promising treatments for asthma, mainly due to their anti-spasmodic and anti-inflammatory properties.
Cannabis as an Anti-Inflammatory: Cannabis is a proven anti-inflammatory. When cannabinoids enter the body, they react with the CB1 and CB2 receptors in the endocannabinoid system (ECS) to suppress inflammatory response by activating immune cells and suppressing cytokines and chemokines at inflammatory sites. This anti-inflammatory response makes cannabis a promising treatment for reducing symptoms of arthritis, colitis, hepatitis, and certain cancers. One animal study showed that cannabis’ ability to reduce cytokines can also make it an effective treatment for asthma. In the study, Wistar rats were injected with asthma, causing an increase in cytokine levels. The high cytokine levels were then reduced through the use of CBD. Given this, cannabis could be used to lessen the likelihood of an asthma attack by reducing inflammation in the lungs.
Cannabis as an Antispasmodic: You might be surprised to hear that epilepsy and asthma are related: both cause spasmodic symptoms. Epileptic spasms are characterized by involuntary muscle movements that occur due to episodes of uncontrolled electrical disturbances in the brain (seizures). Asthma sufferers experience bronchial spasms. These occur when the muscles that line the airways of the lung constrict or tighten, reducing airflow by 15% or more. Studies determined that those with epilepsy may have a higher risk of asthma, and those with asthma may have a higher risk of developing epilepsy. Cannabis can reduce spasticity through its work as a muscle relaxant. Muscle contractions are caused by chemical messengers that originate in the central nervous system and go to a muscle, forcing it to contract. When the body does not have the proper supply of endocannabinoids, excessive chemicals are produced which cause muscles to contract continuously, manifesting as spasms. When CBD or THC is introduced to the body, they provide a sufficient supply of cannabinoids and allow muscles to relax. Cannabis has been proven to calm spasms and reduce the number of seizures in individuals with epilepsy. It has also been shown to reduce bronchospasms associated with airway hyperinflation, as seen in asthma sufferers.
Cannabis and Anxiety: Cannabis can also be effective in reducing symptoms of asthma through its ability to decrease anxiety. There is evidence that stress, while not a cause of asthma, can make symptoms worse. Stress and anxiety can cause physiological changes that may provoke an attack. These emotions can trigger the release of chemicals, such as histamines and leukotrienes, which cause the airway to narrow. These same emotions can make people forget to take their asthma medications, making an attack more likely. Stress-related hormones can also reduce the body’s ability to fight colds and other respiratory infections that can make asthma worse. CBD can work to reduce stress and anxiety. When it enters the body, it increases serotonin levels and works to fight feelings of stress and depression, reducing the occurrence of stress-related attacks. It is important to note that while some feel THC helps to reduce stress, others experience anxiety-related symptoms as a result of using the cannabinoid. For those reasons, CBD may be a preferred course of treatment for anxiety-related asthma attacks.
Suppression of the Immune System: Cannabis also has the ability to suppress the immune system. Autoimmunity occurs when the immune system gets triggered, thinking that the body’s tissues are invaders. This causes T-cells in the body to act as if the body’s own cells were foreign, in an attempt to bring the body back to homeostasis. Asthma is identified as an autoimmune disease resulting from a dysregulation of the immune system. Cannabis works to suppress the immune system, reducing the likelihood of an asthma attack. This makes it a promising treatment in the control of symptoms related to the condition.
Cannabis Reduces Asthma-Related Pain: Although many of us don’t think of asthma as painful, an attack can bring on uncomfortable, or even debilitating, chest pain. Although there are no pain receptors in the lungs, asthma sufferers experience pain because they are unable to breathe properly. When airflow is interrupted, it causes additional stress on accessory muscles, such as the sternocleidomastoid and scalene. During an asthma attack, these muscles contract to expand the rib cage, and because they are rarely used for normal breathing, it produces a similar effect to that of a tough workout. Cannabis is known to relieve pain. Its anti-inflammatory properties are driven through the activation of CB2 receptors on immune cells, dampening the body’s pain-inducing response. Cannabis also activates CB1 receptors, increasing opioid receptor activation and levels of anandamide, which helps to inhibit pain processing.
Cannabis vs. Current Asthma Medications
Of course, there are existing asthma medications on the market. Many provide effective results, but also come with side effects. Here are some forms of treatment available for controlling symptoms:
Inhaled Corticosteroids: These are the most effective and commonly used anti-inflammatory drugs used to treat asthma. However, in children, they can delay growth slightly. They can also cause throat irritation and oral yeast infections.
Leukotriene Modifiers: These medications block the effects of leukotrienes, immune system chemicals that cause asthma attacks. Possible side effects include agitation, aggression, depression, hallucinations, and suicidal thinking.
Theophylline: This bronchodilator, used to decrease bronchial resistance and increase airflow, can cause insomnia and gastroesophageal reflux.
Quick Relief Medications: These medications work to relax the lungs and open airways, but are not recommended for everyday use. Possible side effects include jitteriness and palpitations.
Oral Corticosteroids: These can be taken to treat severe asthma attacks and may cause serious side effects with long term use, including cataracts, thinning bones, muscle weakness, decreased resistance to infection, high blood pressure, and decreased growth in children.
Allergy Medications: Those who suffer from allergy-related asthma may take allergy medications to reduce symptoms. These are known to cause drowsiness.
In comparison, cannabis produces very few side effects and those that are produced are relatively non-serious in nature. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides to taking cannabis for asthma symptoms. First, it should be noted that THC produces psychoactive effects. Those who do not wish to experience psychoactive are advised to make CBD their cannabis treatment of choice.
Another thing to be aware of is how you choose to administer cannabis treatment. Smoking CBD or marijuana will make symptoms of asthma worse, countering any positive effects. Fortunately, there are many alternatives to smoking for those that want to treat their asthma symptoms. Oils, capsules, and edibles are all viable options when considering CBD for the treatment of asthma. However, many say that vaporizers are the most effective. Dr. Dustin Sulak, a leading medical cannabis physician, finds vaporizing cannabis to be a highly effective solution for asthma patients due to its ability to provide superior temperature control. If inhalation with a vaporizer is done correctly, users will be able to breathe deeper, expand their lungs, and relieve constriction. For quick relief, the doctor recommends a tincture or a vaporizer, as these are much gentler on the system and will deliver medication without increasing irritation.
While asthma can greatly reduce quality of life, it doesn’t have to. Cannabis is a natural solution that produces little side effects. If you or a loved one is suffering from asthma, talk to your health care professional and find out whether cannabis can effectively treat your symptoms and help you breathe easier.