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Marijuana and Asthma: Benefits vs Risks

By on May 11, 2013

Summary (click to view)

  • Asthma causes inflammation of the airway
  • A number of studies were conducted on humans in the 1970s
  • Studies show that THC is just as effective as traditional medications in treating asthma
  • THC relaxes the airway in both healthy and asthmatic individuals
  • Smoking marijuana still poses a risk for bronchitis, but using vaporizers or edibles reduces this risk
  • THC can be delivered via inhalers

    TruthOnPot.com – Marijuana’s effects on the respiratory system are some of the most baffling findings of modern-day research. Contrary to what most might think, studies have conclusively shown that long-term cannabis use has little to no impact on the lungs.

    On the other hand, those who suffer from asthma might take extra caution when it comes to smoking anything, since asthma is a potentially life-threatening disorder that can severely disrupt one’s breathing. Asthma affects approximately 250 million people worldwide and was responsible for 250,000 deaths in 2011.

    But while it may be natural for asthmatics to avoid marijuana, research seems to support the opposite – that is, cannabis could be an effective treatment for the disorder.

    History of Medical Marijuana

    History tells us that humans have been using cannabis as a medicine for thousands of years. The earliest records come from India and China, where marijuana was recommended for the treatment of a variety of common ailments.

    Interestingly, ancient medical practice in India also described the use of cannabis preparations as a treatment for asthma. Likewise, Western doctors recommended the use of cannabis for asthmatic patients up until the late 1800s.

    However, it was not until the latter half of the 20th Century that scientists decided to investigate the potential of this ancient medicine as an alternative to modern-day therapies.

    Human Studies – The Evidence

    Numerous studies conducted in the 1970s found that THC could act as an effective bronchodilator – countering airway constriction, the primary symptom of asthma – in both healthy and asthmatic individuals.

    In fact, a study published in 1977 found that THC was a stronger bronchodilator than isoproterenol, which was a common treatment for asthma at the time.

    Early studies also found smoked marijuana to be effective at reversing the bronchoconstriction induced by allergic reactions or exercise in patients with asthma. Interestingly, THC seemed to elicit similar effects on the airway regardless of the route of administration.

    Research from the 70s also investigated the effectiveness of using a metered-dose inhaler to deliver THC – the same method used to deliver traditional asthma medication.

    A study published in 1976 showed that THC delivered via an inhaler was just as effective as Salbutamol – a widely prescribed treatment for asthma – at improving lung function in the 10 asthmatic patients that were studied. Furthermore, a study published in 1978 using the same delivery method found that THC’s bronchodilator action lasted between 3 to 6 hours – depending on the dosage – in the 5 patients that were studied.

    And despite the remarkable effects observed in both studies, THC was administered at such low doses (50-200 µg) that none of the patients reported any side-effects.

    Animal Studies – The Evidence

    Oddly enough, research on humans ended abruptly in the 70s and has still yet to pick up again, which leaves findings from animal studies as the only source of recent evidence. Even still, animal research only serves to provide more support for the use of cannabis as a treatment for asthma.

    A study published in 2008 found that administration of the synthetic cannabinoid CP55 – a compound that activates both CB1 and CB2 receptors – was able to counteract an allergic asthma-like response in guinea pigs. Cannabinoid treatment not only reduced coughing and shortness of breath, but also reduced levels of inflammatory molecules, confirming the well-known anti-inflammatory properties of medical marijuana.

    Similarly, a study published in 2003 found that administration of THC or cannabinol (CBN) were both able to reduce the presence of inflammatory molecules as well as mucus overproduction in rat models of asthma.

    How Does It Work?

    Not only does evidence from animal research support the role of medical marijuana in treating asthma, but it also provides us with an explanation for how it works.

    Interestingly, studies have identified CB1 receptors on nerve cells of the airway, suggesting a role of cannabinoid receptors in the contraction of airway muscles. What’s more, studies suggest that naturally occurring cannabinoids which mimic the effects of THC – such as anandamide – may also be able to control the contraction of airway muscles by activating CB1 receptors.

    In fact, a study published in 2000 found that anandamide could relax the airway muscles and inhibit coughing induced by chemical irritants in rats.

    Indeed, THC seems to provide the same therapeutic benefits as natural cannabinoids, but with a stronger and longer-lasting effect. Likewise, numerous studies have concluded that marijuana-based therapy holds much promise in the treatment of asthma, despite the fact that human studies have yet to be conducted since the 70s.

    Risks

    Although research seems to provide strong support for the use of medical marijuana in treating asthma, it is important to note that there are still a number of risks.

    For instance, studies involving inhaler-delivered THC show that higher doses can cause bronchoconstriction in patients with asthma. Indeed, a study published in 1977 found that out of the 5 asthmatics that were studied, only 3 experienced bronchodilation, whereas 2 experienced bronchoconstriction after receiving 5-20 mg of THC, showing that dosages delivered via inhaler must be kept low in order for THC to be used as a treatment. On the other hand, studies involving smoked marijuana have yet to demonstrate similar risks.

    Additionally, while studies have conclusively demonstrated that marijuana use does not increase the risk of lung cancer or impair lung function, research shows that cannabis users are still at risk of developing bronchitis.

    Bronchitis is characterized by inflammation of the mucous membranes of the airway, which can lead to persistent coughing and increased mucous (phlegm) production. Bronchitis poses a particular risk to patient with asthma, since the presence of both disorders only makes symptoms worse.

    However, the risk of bronchitis can be avoided by using alternative methods to ingest marijuana, such as vaporizers or edible preparations. And as research shows, THC does not need to be smoked in order to take advantage of its therapeutic benefits.

    • a

      I’ve been a cannabis smoker since 2005 and ever since I initially got bronchitis and became lightly asthmatic in 2008, it’s become harder and harder and harder to smoke over the years. Right now I’m at a point that even if I quit for 2 months, 1 week of smoking starts killing me. The bronchitis and asthma come back very quick. Vaporizors, same thing. Still kills me. I’ve even switched to edibles and they STILL affect my breathing after using them for a while. I hate it, because it seems that everything is stacked against me to stop getting high. It could just be me, but I don’t find ANYTHING but my inhalers as a functioning bronchodilator. Everything closes me up right quick: smoke, vape, and edibles…

      • TruthOnPotcom

        That’s very sad to hear. Bronchitis is indeed a major drawback of using marijuana for anything, but especially asthma. And asthma can be tricky. Irritation can cause airway constrictions in asthmatics, even if the irritant is a bronchodilator in itself (as the 1977 study found).

        Your experience with vaporizers and edibles is interesting though. I’m not aware of any research that can explain what you’ve described, but perhaps its an anxiety thing? I know that being anxious alone can induce asthma attacks, so maybe its just the fear of having an anxiety attack from weed that’s doing it to you?

        That’s all I’ve got, but I wish you luck with figuring out a safe way to medicate!

      • Banana

        I’m sorry to hear that marijuana has that effect on you. Perhaps you just have a specific type of asthma that doesn’t agree with weed. I wish you well on finding a more suitable treatment.

      • sheezzy

        Edibles can’t affect your asthma lmfao your not inhaling pot brownies into your lungs I think your thinking toi much go see a dn doctor

        • Bob

          Sheezy, you’re a rude dickhead.

          • Kevin Fisher

            and your an ignorant sheep. ive got fibromyalgia,chronic pelvic pain,Glaucoma,cataracts,mackular degeneration,Trigeminal neuralgia, severe arthritis, osteoperosis,and chronic nausea and migraines. also TMJ n Tinnitus, and IBS.,asthma / chronic sinusitus, and chronic candida , scolliosis/ degenerative-disc spine disorder.bulging discs. two inguinal hernia’s. a hiatus hernia(had fundoplication 9mnths ago for it),also gerd/ and acid reflux. i also have varicoele/hydrocele/chronic-Prostatitis. And adhd/ anxiety/depression/ptsd/bipolar/explosive-personality disorder. and have inguinal hernia surgery in a month and had varicocele embolization surgery 3 days ago. and im prescribed 30 grams of herb per day. and im on permanent odsp too. this is what i use the herb and oil for . i do dabbs off of a ceramic nail, and i smoke organic bud and vape organic purple kush and afghan x hindu kush every day to control my asthma. and juicing the buds and fan leaves are high in cbd’s and can heal the damn asthma over some time. wake up plz ;)

      • Jesus! brother Bob

        Smoker for35 years, asthma and cronic brochitis since I was 5. Occasionally I will have flare ups when I smoke, effects are short and the attacts disappear in an hour or so. Cause? =Allergy to male pollen. If you smoking is causing an almost instant reaction you may have an allergy. No cure for that one, sorry.

    • nameless

      i just got back from the doctors and i have bronchitis i also have asthma, i used to smoke a lot of blunts but i stopped a on Christmas of 2013 and I’ve been vaporizing since. or rice joints. anyways i want to know if its safe to vaporize medical wax it helps my back and my chest doesn’t feel tight at all.

      • yourwalkingnightmare

        I had the same problem. I have asthma and on Feb 2014 I got bronchitis. I had just purchased my vape coming from my experience no matter how much you don’t feel the tightness. Its doing a lot of harm to your lungs especially right now. Don’t do it. Just do edibles or something just don’t smoke or vape. Any smoke or vapor will make bronchitis worst. I didn’t listen for the first week and I ended up in the hospital. Its been about 5 months and after I smoke or vape I still throw up a lot of clear mucus every morning. Just get the teas or edibles.

    • yatS hgiH

      To “a” id like to say that you are not alone ive been a very heavy marijuana smoker among other drug uses for over 5 years but ive especially smoked weed alots of it and about 4 or 5 months ago I got bronchitis and a little bit of asthma and I stopped smoking for a couple of weeks ever since that happen when ive smoked or eaten marijuana I feel asthma like symptoms come all of a sudden so I went to a lung specialist and it turns out that my lung are over 100% healthy what was concluded about my so called “asthma” symptoms when smoking or eating weed and even exercising is that is completely a mental symptom induced by OCD like anxiety whenever I do something I know could somehow affect my lungs by making them work hard weather its by running taking fat rips from a bong or even tripping because im super high off a few edibles(because of lowering my tolerance) I hope this could be even a little helpful into understanding why it feels like even eating weed affects your breathing because truthfully I love smoking weed and its been super hard to stop it for a while after ive smoked so much for so many years because not it a lifestyle I love living and something I love doing but its also helped with a lot of medical not even the hard prescriptions they have on could help half as well but to not make this a whole life story if I could give you one piece of advice as a fellow bud lover in a very similar situation is vaporize only if ones not available at times smoke small amounts as needed and not only will you have the satisfaction of enjoying delicious cannabis as you normally would but you will start moving forward from the fear of not being able to breath every you consume marijuana but you will start realizing that its all something psychological and not physical every morning you wake up remembering the panic you felt the night before about not being able to breath after vaporizing a nice gram of weed or smoking a little bowl and realize it was all for nothing because its the next morning and your still alive and trust me a guy that once in a while still thinks back to those days and how miserable he was with this panic and no weed, you will get past and it will get better after a while of doing you will be able to go back to enjoying some high grade marijuana.
      Much love and hope I could help even a little, as I truly thought I was the only one in this situation!

      • merp

        use some damn periods

    • yatS hgiH

      To “a” id like to say that you are not alone ive been a very heavy marijuana smoker among other drug uses for over 5 years but ive especially smoked weed and lots of it and about 4 or 5 months ago I got bronchitis and a little bit of asthma and I stopped smoking for a couple of weeks ever since that happened when ive smoked or eaten marijuana I feel asthma like symptoms come all of a sudden so I went to a lung specialist and it turns out that my lung are over 100% healthy so what was concluded about my so called “asthma” symptoms when smoking or eating weed and even exercising is that is completely a mental symptom induced by OCD like anxiety whenever I do something I know could somehow affect my lungs by making them work hard weather its by running, taking fat rips from a bong, or even tripping because im super high off a few edibles(because of lowering my tolerance) I hope this could be even a little helpful into understanding why it feels like even eating weed affects your breathing because truthfully I love smoking weed and its been super hard to stop it for a while after ive smoked so much for so many years because not only is it a lifestyle I love living and something I love doing but its also helped with a lot of medical mental symptoms that not even the hard prescriptions they have me on could help half as well with, but to not make this a whole life story if I could give you one piece of advice as a fellow bud lover in a very similar situation is vaporize and only if ones not available at times smoke small amounts as needed and not only will you have the satisfaction of enjoying delicious cannabis as you normally would but you will start moving forward from the fear of not being able to breath every time you consume marijuana but you will start realizing that its all something psychological and not physical every morning you wake up remembering the panic you felt the night before about not being able to breath after vaporizing a nice gram of weed or smoking a little bowl and realize it was all for nothing because its the next morning and your still alive and trust me a guy that once in a while still thinks back to those days and how miserable he was with this panic and no weed, you will get past this and it will get better after a while of doing it and you will be able to go back to enjoying some high grade marijuana as you did before all this happened.
      Much love and hope I could help even a little, as I truly thought I was the only one in this situation!

    • Needhelp20

      I have had asthma all my life. But starting in high school I got chronic bronchitis. I have been to the ER 3-4 times a year just for it because it gets so bad. I have been to tons or doctors and all they keep doing is giving me the same treatment. Nothing has helped. My breathing is getting worse and I’m only 20 years old. I’ve been told if it gets any worse I will have permanent damage to my lungs and I will never be able to play sports or my trumpet ever again.

      • sheezzy

        Who cares??no one on here… Your lung problems have nothing to do with this article people are trying to read about marijuana helping asthma not someone telling their story about their asthma. Go smoke some weed and tell about how your lungs are healthier then we’ll care lol.

        • prstewart

          wow Is it necessary to be so rude? Maybe you need to go smoke something.

        • Brian Pettrie

          wow, how ignorant and rude and for no reason too…..some people in this world I tell ya……

      • yumicpcake

        Try taking 3-5 moderate pulls off of a pipe. Don’t use highly potent pot when you do that. But try not to use more than that at a time. Remember that you are not trying to get high, but breath better. Be careful, you want to do this gently as not to cough a lot. But you want to do it like you do a nebulizer treatment. Not super large deep pulls,but you want to hold for about 3 seconds and exhale.

      • yumicpcake

        Unless it’s a bad attack. My step- daughter used to go to the er for hers too and they would just do 2 nebulizer treatments back to back. You can try the back to back but be gentle with it. If you live in a state that approves medicinal marijuana, you might want to try the edibles for the THC.

      • Shred Webster

        Give up dairy and look into the Chinese way of treating asthma with diet and some killer herbs. I smoke and have asthma. dairy was the single greatest factor in helping my asthma.

    • soldfresh

      lol seriously its asthma, how can smoking anything improve your breathing. If someone wants to smoke weed that’s fine, its not my body your putting it into. What annoys me about it is when people say weed will solves every medical problem and will make you more creative, smarter and more relaxed. I used to go to the ER once a year with asthma and found that educating yourself on your condition solved allot of my problems. Wearing a vest during the winter to keep the cold of your chest, drinking more water , avoiding caffeine etc.. Your going to make yourself more sick smoking weed.