For the millions of people suffering from asthma worldwide, daily coughing fits and shortness of breath are an unpleasant reality. An estimated 1 in 12 people suffer from asthma, a chronic respiratory disease that usually begins to show its symptoms in early childhood. While the symptoms are mild for some patients, for others it is a serious concern that can lead to a possibly life-threatening asthma attack. In fact, over 3,000 people sadly die from asthma each year (cdc.gov.). Traditional medications for asthma involve inhaling steroids – which include their own risks and side effects. Medical cannabis, also known as medical marijuana, is increasingly being used to treat asthma. While to some it may seem counterintuitive to use cannabis to treat asthma, the scientific evidence shows that the compounds in cannabis have very little to no actual long-term damage to the lungs (Pletcher, 2012). In fact, the research shows that in addition to addressing the issues with conventional asthma treatments, medical cannabis also possesses anti-inflammatory, anti-spasmodic, and anti-anxiety properties without harmful side effects, making it the perfect solution for those suffering from asthma.
In order to discuss how medical cannabis can be useful in treating asthma, it is important to look at what the symptoms and their underlying causes are. The symptoms associated with asthma are shortness of breath, tightening of the chest, wheezing, and coughing. There are two main factors that cause these difficulties with breathing. First, the muscles surrounding the bronchioles begin to clench and tighten. Secondly, the bronchioles begin to create more mucus. These responses can be triggered by environmental conditions and exposure to allergens such as pollen and mold, irritating the breathing passages. One of the major causes of asthma attacks is anxiety. When a person is experiencing symptoms of anxiety, the body’s stress response causes an increased release of histamines and leukotrienes which then leads to a narrowing of the lungs’ airways.
In order to treat these symptoms, asthma sufferers are regularly prescribed puffers or inhalers. The problem with these puffers or inhalers is they usually contain steroids. The steroids are prescribed in an attempt to relieve the inflammation and lessen the mucus that accumulates. Unfortunately, these types of medications may not begin to take effect for several hours, which is far too long to be useful for someone suffering from an asthma attack. Inhaling steroids can also lead to other unpleasant side effects such as voice hoarseness and a yeast infection of the throat known as thrush. Patients with asthma may also be prescribed pharmaceuticals to treat their inflammation, such as leukotriene modifying medications or immunomodulators. These medications have been linked to undesirable side effects such as upset stomach, weight gain, bone loss, slowed growth, dizziness, headaches, and mood swings.
Fortunately, medical cannabis provides the same relief of the pharmaceutical medications without the potentially dangerous side effects. Medical researchers have confirmed that the cannabinoid known as THC acts as a bronchodilator and opens up the airways (Williams, 1976) and helps to reduce and control muscle spasms, allowing air to flow more freely and with less restriction (Hartley, et al.). Cannabis is well-known as a treatment for anxiety (Webb, 2014). Due to anxiety being one of the main triggers of an asthma attack, using medical cannabis correctly and in a safe manner of ingestion (such as a vaporizer) is a fast and efficient way to not only treat, but also prevent an asthma attack. The cannabinoid CBD (cannabidiol) is useful in relieving inflammation in lung tissue (Ribeiro, et al.) and in the reduction of inflammatory compounds known as cytokines which helps to reduce the mucosal production that ails so many asthma patients (Vuolo, et al.) In a study published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, scientists showed that THC was effective in reducing lung contractions and spasms, thereby averting an asthma attack (Grassin‐Delyle, et al.).
With over 35 million people affected by asthma each year, finding an effective and safe medical solution is critical. Prescription medications used in inhalers, such as steroids and immunomodulators, do not often provide relief fast enough for patients, many of whom have greatly diminished lung capacity. Modern technology, along with scientists and medical researchers, are providing new ways for patients to use medical cannabis to treat and prevent asthma attacks. While smoking cannabis can exacerbate irritated lungs, other options for medicating are available. Whether via vaporizers, tinctures, or other means of ingestion, medical cannabis relieves the symptoms and prevents the causes of asthma.
Written by: Mara Trivino ©KingHarvest.org
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MPH, Mark J. Pletcher MD. “Association Between Marijuana Exposure and Pulmonary Function Over 20 Years.” JAMA, American Medical Association, 11 Jan. 2012, jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1104848/.
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Hartley, J P, et al. “Bronchodilator Effect of delta1-Tetrahydrocannabinol.” British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 1978, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1429361/.
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Vuolo, F, et al. “Evaluation of Serum Cytokines Levels and the Role of Cannabidiol Treatment in Animal Model of Asthma.” Mediators of Inflammation., U.S. National Library of Medicine, April 2015 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26101464/.
Grassin‐Delyle, S, et al. “Cannabinoids Inhibit Cholinergic Contraction in Human Airways through Prejunctional CB1 Receptors.” British Journal of Pharmacology, 15 May 2014, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/bph.12597/abstract.