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Marijuana and Asthma

Asthma is a chronic condition of the lungs that’s caused by inflammation of your airways. As a result, your airways constrict. This leads to wheezing and breathing difficulties.

According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute , more than 25 million Americans have asthma. Many of them are searching for natural and alternative treatment methods. This includes marijuana (cannabis).

Marijuana is being legalized in many states. Some states have legalized it for medical purposes only. Others have legalized both medical and recreational use of this drug.

You may be wondering whether marijuana could be a potential treatment for asthma, or perhaps you think it probably makes asthma worse. In fact, while smoking marijuana can worsen breathing problems, taking other forms of the plant that don’t require smoking may potentially benefit people with asthma.

A growing body of research is focusing on marijuana’s effects on asthma and whether cannabis plants can offer some relief for the condition. The focus isn’t so much on smoking marijuana joints, but rather on taking cannabinoids instead.

Cannabinoids are naturally occurring substances in marijuana plants. They are sometimes used to treat chronic pain and neurological conditions, such as arthritis and multiple sclerosis. This is due to their anti-inflammatory properties.

Since asthma is caused by a chronic inflammation of the lungs, researchers are trying to find out whether cannabinoids can have similar effects for this condition. Research is especially promising for people who have allergic asthma.

Cannabinoids may be available in the form of supplements. These substances may also be derived from smoking marijuana in nontraditional forms. A 2013 study in the journal Substance Abuse found that people who smoke marijuana using vaporizers gained more benefits from the plant with less lung-irritating smoke.

Still, there are some limits to these potential benefits. One study published in Current Opinion in Pulmonary Medicine contends that short-term medicinal uses of marijuana may not harm the lungs. This is compared to recreational or heavy smoking. However, it’s not clear just how much is safe or for exactly how long.

Despite any possible benefits, marijuana also poses enormous risks if you have asthma. This is particularly the case if you smoke it. Smoking any substance can increase inflammation in your lungs. This makes asthma symptoms worse.

Smoking marijuana may even increase your risk for an asthma attack. In severe cases, you may need to be hospitalized for an asthma attack. This helps to prevent life-threatening complications.

When you smoke marijuana, large air sacs called bullae may start to develop in your lungs. These can eventually disrupt your breathing. According to the American Thoracic Society, you’re at an increased risk of developing bullae from smoking marijuana if you’re under the age of 45.

Over time, bullae can grow and cause shortness of breath. What’s even more dangerous is the development of pneumothorax. This is a life-threatening condition that occurs when bullae rupture in the lungs.

In the short term, smoking marijuana can cause:

  • frequent coughing
  • lung infections
  • phlegm
  • shortness of breath
  • wheezing

Smoking is perhaps one of the most common ways to use marijuana. Still, this isn’t the only form of marijuana available.

Aside from traditional joints, some people prefer smoking marijuana with other tools such as bong. In theory, these can help reduce the amount of smoke you inhale. However, not enough studies have been done to determine whether such devices make smoking marijuana any safer.

Vaping marijuana by warming the plant results in less smoke being inhaled. CBD and THC, two compounds of marijuana, can be taken orally in food or capsules. Oils with CBD can be applied to the skin. The entire marijuana plant is often available in food products.

Nonsmoking forms of marijuana are also less likely to irritate your lungs. These include extracts that may be mixed with food and CBD oils that are available as supplements.

Numerous conventional treatment options are available for people with asthma. Aside from quick-relief medications, such as inhalers, your doctor may recommend drugs that provide more long-term control. These help stop asthma symptoms before they become problematic by decreasing inflammation. Examples include:

  • nebulizers
  • inhaled corticosteroids
  • leukotriene tablets

If you’re looking for more “natural” forms of asthma treatment, talk to your doctor about the following options:

  • breathing exercises
  • meditation
  • massage
  • acupuncture

When it comes to using marijuana for asthma, there’s an ongoing debate about the benefits versus the risks. The negative effects of tobacco smoke — especially for people with lung diseases such as asthma — have been well-established. As marijuana becomes legalized in many areas, only then can more research be done.

However, the bottom line is that smoking marijuana can indeed be harmful if you have asthma. Overall, smoking marijuana is unsafe for people with lung disease.

Talk to your doctor about all the options for asthma treatment, and ask whether other forms of marijuana could benefit your particular case.

Last medically reviewed on December 6, 2018

Marijuana (cannabis) is being legalized in many states. You may be wondering whether marijuana could be a potential treatment for asthma. A growing body of research is focusing on marijuana’s effects on asthma and whether cannabis plants can offer some relief for the condition. Learn the benefits and risks.

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.