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What is Asthma?

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that affects more than 26 million Americans. It occurs when the airways in the chest get narrower or become inflamed. It is a chronic disease that can last a lifetime so treatment usually focuses on managing the symptoms. Current treatment for Asthma includes the use of inhalers to treat and prevent symptoms. The symptoms of asthma include wheezing, shortness of breath and coughing. Since the symptoms closely mimic a heart attack, asthma can cause severe anxiety and in some cases panic attacks that can be destabilizing.

Can Marijuana be Used to Treat Asthma?

With the renewed interest in using Marijuana for treating a variety of conditions, you can’t help but wonder if Marijuana can alleviate Asthma symptoms. But since Marijuana is mostly smoked or vaped, what does this mean for a person suffering from Asthma? We know that smoking tobacco can cause the airways to narrow thereby obstructing them and increasing the distress of asthma. But is marijuana smoke different? Are there better ways to consuming Marijuana without smoking it. Let’s examine the facts.

The Difference between smoking Tobacco and smoking Marijuana?

There are a number of similarities between tobacco smoke and marijuana smoke. Both types of smoke increase inflammation and cause wheezing and cough. However there is one subtle but important difference between the two.

Experimentsconducted in the 1970’s show that while tobacco smoke obstructs the airways, smoke from marijuana has the exact opposite effect. In one study, eight people with asthma did methacholine and exercise challenge tests.After the challenges, they were treated with a short-acting beta-agonist, marijuana, placebo marijuana, and saline. Treatment with marijuana or the short-acting beta agonist opens up the airways immediately.

The results of this finding led to further studies on the connection between marijuana and lung function. One studyshowed that people who smoke marijuana have more lung capacity. The study included people with and without asthma. The commonly prevailing theory was that since people who smoke marijuana inhaled more deeply and held their breath longer their chest wall muscles were stronger thereby increasing their lung capacity.

However since most people who smoke marijuana also smoke tobacco, it made it difficult to study their different effects. But is smoking marijuana actually better than smoking tobacco?

The Risks and Rewards of Smoking Marijuana to Treat Asthma

Marijuana smoke is generally unfiltered. Which means that more tar and cancer causing chemicals enter the lungs than smoking tobacco. Also marijuana impacts the mind and body very differently as compared to tobacco. Studieshave shown that marijuana can be harmful for children and teens and can cause problems with their brains which are still developing. Further heavy marijuana use can negatively impact lung function as compared to moderate use of the drug. Lastly people who smoke marijuana also tended to smoke tobacco thereby negating the positive effects of marijuana. In light of these facts the risks associated with smoking marijuana far outweigh the benefits and in the absence of conclusive evidence it cannot be said without a shred of a doubt that smoking marijuana will actually alleviate symptoms of asthma. Fortunately there are other ways of consuming marijuana that are far less harmful than smoking.

Non-smoking options for Marijuana Consumption.

Marijuana can be consumed in several ways most notably as,

  1. Edibles – These are foods that contain marijuana usually prepared by melting cannabis in butter or any fat based substance. This cannabutter or cannabis butter can then be used to make any number of foods or tea which can be consumed.
  2. Tinctures – Cannabis tinctures are made by dissolving marijuana in alcohol. Tincture dosages are easy to self-titrate, or measure. Start with a small dose and slowly increase as you go along.
  3. Ingestible Oils – Cannabis oils can be swallowed or digested as an infused product. They can be taken as is or put in easily ingested capsules.
  4. Topical Delivery Methods – Topical cannabis administration utilizes full cannabis extract — a thick oil that has been decarboxylated to activate cannabinoids. Once cannabinoids are activated, they can be absorbed through your skin. This method is apt for people looking for the benefits of cannabis without the high.
The science behind using marijuana for asthma relief

Marijuana contains a range of active substances known as cannabinoids. To date at least 113 different cannabinoids have been isolated from the cannabis plant. Notable among these are THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), CBD (cannabidiol) and CBN (cannabinol).

THC is primarily responsible for marijuanas psychotropic properties. The feeling of getting high can be attributed to this cannabinoid. CBD on the other hand does not have the psychotropic properties of THC, but has several medical applications like relief from inflammation, pain, anxiety, psychosis, seizures, spasms, and other conditions. CBN also does not contain the psychoactive properties of THC and its most characterizing attribute is it’s sedative effect. Simply put CBN is great for people suffering from insomnia and other sleep disorders.

Scientists are still studying the effects of various cannabinoids found in marijuana but a recent animal study published in 2015 suggested that CBD may benefit people with asthma due to its anti inflammatory properties. CBD also has a calming effect on people suffering from anxiety and depression. It can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety that may follow an asthma induced panic attack.

THC is an immunosuppressant and can help in reducing symptoms that stem from autoimmune diseases like Asthma. Since Asthma is an allergic reaction where the immune system is over-reacting to something in the environment, THC can suppress the immune system and provide temporary relief in theory.

Further Research is Required

Although certain studies show the promising impact marijuana can have on people suffering from Asthma, further studies are needed to confirm it’s safety and effectiveness.

While certain active ingredients in marijuana hold promise for asthma relief, smoking marijuana may negate any of those benefits.

Research in this area is still limited and while medical marijuana has been making the news lately, it isn’t advisable to use marijuana for treating asthma without proper consultation with a doctor.


Malcolm Pinto

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