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You are here: Home > FAQ > Asthma: How should cannabis or THC be taken to treat asthma?

Asthma: How should cannabis or THC be taken to treat asthma?

British Medical Association

Acute doses of cannabis and THC exert a definitive bronchodilator effect on the small airways of the lungs. The mechanism of this effect is not known, but it appears to be different from that of other drugs used at present as bronchodilators for asthma. (…) However, there have been very few studies on the bronchodilator effects of cannabinoids in asthmatic patients. All of these were studies carried out in the 1970s. Tashkin et al. studied 14 asthmatic volunteers and compared smoked cannabis (2%THC), oral THC (15mg) and the drug isoprenaline (0.5%). They found that smoked cannabis and oral THC produced significant bronchodilatation of at least two hours duration. The effect of smoked cannabis was nearly equivalent to the clinical dose of isoprenaline. Smoked cannabis was also capable of reversing experimentally induced bronchospasm in three asthmatic subjects. (…) Williams et al. compared a THC aerosol containing 0.2 mg THC with a salbutamol aerosol (0.1 mg) in 10 asthmatic subjects. Both drugs significantly improved respiratory function. The onset of effect was more rapid with salbutamol, but the effects of both drugs were equivalent at one hour. Tashkin et al. compared several doses of THC aerosol (5-20mg) with a standard dose of isoprenaline in 11 normal volunteers and five asthmatic subjects. In the normal subjects and three of the asthmatics, the bronchodilator effect of THC was less than that of isoprenaline after five minutes, but significantly greater after one to three hours.
(Please note: This text has been taken from a scientific article. Some sentences have been changed to improve understandability.)
British Medical Association: Therapeutic Uses of Cannabis. Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1997.

Franjo Grotenhermen

The treatment of asthma includes the use of anti-inflammatory drugs (corticosteroids) and bronchodilators. THC and cannabis are bronchodilators and may also exert some anti-inflammatory and anti-allergic action. Cannabis smoke contains combustion products qualitatively similar to those found in tobacco smoke, among them several carcinogens that may damage the mucosa. The inhalation of these combustion products should be avoided or strongly decreased. To avoid the intake of combustion products cannabis can be taken orally. To decrease the amount of inhaled carcinogens cannabis or THC can be inhaled by a vaporizer, and/or cannabis with a high THC content can be used/smoked. In several situations, a combination of a basic oral medication and a demand inhaled medication in acute asthma attacks may be useful to reduce the risks from smoking and the risk of overdosage with oral administration. The availability of a THC aerosol is desirable.

Calignano and colleagues

An international research group has discovered why marijuana causes coughing in some situations but may inhibit bronchospasm and cough in others. This finding could lead to better treatments of respiratory diseases. In a report in the journal Nature scientists from the Institute of Experimental Medicine in Budapest (Hungary), the University of Naples (Italy) and the University of Washington (USA) showed how the endocannabinoid anandamide influences the airways in the lungs. In animal studies with guinea pigs and rats, anandamide exerted a dual effect on bronchial responsiveness. If the muscles in the lungs were constricted by an irritant (capsaicin) the endocannabinoid relaxed the smooth muscles and strongly inhibited coughing. But if the airways were relaxed (by removing the constricting effect of the vagus nerve) anandamide caused a coughing spasm. Anandamide is synthesized in lung tissues and its effects are mediated by cannabinoid receptors. (…)
IACM-Bulletin of 12 November 2000; Calignano A, et al: Bidirectional control by airway responsiveness by endogenous cannabinoids. Nature 2000;408:96-101.

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Journals You are here: Home > FAQ > Asthma: How should cannabis or THC be taken to treat asthma? Asthma: How should cannabis or THC be taken to treat asthma? British Medical Association

Can marijuana help treat asthma?

Changes in marijuana laws and the increased use of medicinal marijuana have led to questions about what conditions it can treat. Many people wonder whether marijuana can affect or treat asthma.

Asthma is a chronic lung disease that occurs when the airways in the chest get narrower or become inflamed. Symptoms of asthma include coughing, difficulty breathing, and wheezing.

There is no cure for asthma, so treatment involves managing the symptoms and preventing complications.

There is a growing interest in the use of medical marijuana to treat a range of health conditions, including asthma.

But people who use marijuana, or cannabis usually do so through smoking. What does this mean for a person with asthma? Is there any other way to use marijuana, and can it help reduce the symptoms of asthma?

Read on to find out more.

Share on Pinterest Marijuana contains anti-inflammatory properties.

Studies have suggested that some of the components in marijuana may benefit people with asthma.

Medical marijuana can refer to the whole plant, or it can be an active ingredient of marijuana taken from the plant and turned into a medication.

It is important to note the difference between recreational and medicinal uses of marijuana.

For recreational purposes, many people smoke marijuana. But smoking can have a negative impact on lung health, especially for people with asthma.

Smoking

Smoking cannabis can cause the same symptoms as smoking tobacco, even when people smoke cannabis alone, possibly because smoke from cannabis and tobacco have similar properties.

These effects can be particularly hazardous for people with asthma.

Vaping

In vaporizing, or “vaping,” the user inhales the vapor of the active ingredients but not the smoke. The vaporizer may contain a liquid cannabis extract.

There is little research on the use of vaporizers for marijuana use. However, a 2013 study found that using a vaporizer was likely to be less hazardous to the lungs than smoking.

Researchers in a 2015 review caution, however, “Preliminary findings do not support the idea that vaporization is an improvement over smoking.”

Non-smoking options

Using medical marijuana in other ways might provide benefits for people with asthma.

  • consuming marijuana or its extracts in foods or drinking a tea
  • consuming the active ingredients in capsules
  • applying topical preparations onto the skin

Marijuana contains a range of active substances, known as cannabinoids. These include CBD and various types of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).

THC is a psychoactive ingredient, but CBD is not. CBD does not have mind-altering properties.

CBD, THC, and some other substances in marijuana appear to have various health benefits, including anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic properties.

Some people use marijuana to treat chronic conditions that cause pain and inflammation, such as multiple sclerosis (MS). Some countries have approved the use of medical marijuana for this purpose, but the United States has not.

Researchers have looked into whether people with other inflammatory conditions, such as asthma, can use marijuana safely.

Findings of an animal study published in 2015 suggested that CBD might benefit people with asthma, due to its anti-inflammatory action.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have not yet approved the use of medical marijuana for asthma.

At this point, there is not enough evidence to ensure it can be safe and effective for asthma. However, it is possible that the anti-inflammatory and anti-spasmodic effects might reduce symptoms.

However, in June 2018, the FDA did approve the use of a purified form of cannabidiol (CBD) for the first time.

The FDA approved a drug called Epidiolex to treat two rare and severe forms of epilepsy that do not respond to other medications.

Research has found that THC can help suppress the immune system. This might help reduce symptoms that stem from autoimmune diseases, such as asthma. Since asthma is an allergy reaction, the immune system is over-reacting to something in the environment that is triggering the attack.

Studies have also suggested that one type of THC may have bronchodilatory properties, which means it could help make breathing easier for people with asthma.

However, it is often difficult to study the effect of marijuana and its components. This is because most people who use marijuana use the whole plant, and they smoke it regularly. This can make it hard to assess any positive effects on the lungs.

Using marijuana to treat asthma can involve some risks.

Studies have found that smoking marijuana can trigger an asthma attack. It may also increase the risk of both asthma and allergies.

Smoking marijuana during an asthma attack could further irritate the lungs, worsen coughing, and increase health risks.

As with any drug or medication, marijuana can have some side effects.

  • changes in perception and mood
  • reduced coordination
  • difficulty thinking, reasoning, and remembering

Using marijuana without a doctor’s supervision increases the risk of these problems.

For people who begin smoking marijuana early, there appears to be a higher risk of asthma later in life. Another review discourages the use of marijuana for allergic asthma because of its potential to cause respiratory symptoms.

Complications of smoking

Smoking any substance, including marijuana, can irritate the lung tissue. Lung irritants can trigger or worsen asthma attacks in some people.

The immediate effects of smoking marijuana, tobacco, or a combination can include:

  • increased sputum
  • a chronic cough
  • difficulty breathing
  • a hoarse voice
  • tightness in the chest

Anyone with asthma should avoid smoking any substance, including marijuana.

The long-term effects of smoking marijuana regularly include a higher risk of developing bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

A review of studies published in Nature linked bullous lung disease with marijuana use.

Bullae are large air sacs in the lungs that can put pressure on the lungs and chest, making it more difficult to breathe. They can also rupture or pop, which can trigger a lung to collapse. A collapsed lung can be life-threatening if it does not receive immediate treatment.

It is unclear whether smoking marijuana increases the risk of lung cancer. However, since marijuana smoke contains many cancer-causing chemicals similar to those in tobacco smoke, it is likely to contribute to the risk.

The American Lung Association warn the public that smoking marijuana can be a health risk. This may include second-hand marijuana smoking, too.

As one study concludes, “There is unequivocal evidence that habitual or regular marijuana smoking is not harmless … recreational use is not the same as medicinal use.”

Medicinal marijuana may help relieve asthma, but smoking is likely to make it worse.

Legal issues and regulation

The laws regarding marijuana and medical marijuana are continually developing. Check whether any form of marijuana is legal locally before obtaining or using it.

Some forms of medical marijuana, such as CBD oil may be legal, but there may be restrictions, or a person may need a prescription.

CBD oil and other marijuana-based products that do not have FDA approval are not regulated. This makes it difficult to know exactly what is in the product. The FDA do not approve marijuana for asthma.

Asthma is a condition that causes chronic inflammation in the airways. Research about the anti-inflammatory effects of marijuana is ongoing and often positive. In this article, we look at whether marijuana can be used to help reduce asthma symptoms. We also look at the possible risks, as smoking can worsen symptoms.