Updated on January 25, 2019. Medical content reviewed by Dr. Joseph Rosado, MD, M.B.A, Chief Medical Officer
For many people, the thought of smoking cannabis to treat their asthma symptoms seems ridiculous. Most people already know smoking cigarettes can make the symptoms of asthma worse, therefore, why wouldn’t inhaling marijuana? Medical marijuana for asthma, however, can have positive effects on asthma symptoms, even when inhaled.
Asthma is an ailment where your airways swell and narrow, producing extra mucus. When you have asthma, you find it difficult to breathe. Your asthma triggers wheezing, coughing and shortness of breath. Some people simply find asthma just a mere nuisance. For others, however, it can turn into more than a distraction because it interferes with their day-to-day activities. It could even lead to a life-threatening asthma attack.
There’s no cure for asthma, but doctors can control its symptoms. Since asthma may change over time, it’s essential you work closely with your doctor to track your symptoms and if needed, adjust your treatment.
With asthma, you have inflamed airways. When something triggers an asthma attack, your airways become even more inflamed and swollen, and the surrounding muscles can tighten. When this happens, it’s hard for you to move air in and out of your lungs, which leads to your asthmatic symptoms. Several types of asthma conditions exist, including the following.
For a lot of asthma patients, physical activity can bring on these symptoms. Some otherwise healthy people can develop asthma symptoms only when they exercise, which is known as exercise-induced asthma (EIA) or exercise-induced bronchoconstriction (EIB).
Since staying active and exercising helps keep you healthy, asthma shouldn’t stop you from performing them. Your doctor will work with you to devise a management plan to keep your asthma symptoms under control while you exercise and after.
If you have a family history of asthma or even allergies, you’re more to developing asthma. Many individuals have allergic asthma, which is where you may have both asthma and allergies.
This type of asthma affects millions of children. Most children are younger than five years old when they develop childhood asthma.
Occupational asthma occurs from inhaling gases, dust, fumes or other potentially harmful substances while in the workplace.
The earliest reference to respiratory distress is believed to have originated in China in 2600 B.C. Back then, wheezing or “noisy breathing” characterized asthma. The first occurrence of the term “asthma” was by Hippocrates in approximately 400 B.C. and described respiratory distress or panting. Many thought he was also the first allergist and doctor who established the connection between respiratory disease and environment, correlating illness with climate and location.
Although there have been some tremendous advances in asthma treatment and guidelines, asthma still causes human death. Both asthma incidence and prevalence in recent decades have been increasing throughout the world, not just because of genetic background, but mostly because of various lifestyle and environmental risk factors. And many countries don’t consider asthma a health care priority.
Asthma has some distinct signs and symptoms. These include:
You’re probably well aware that asthma affects your body physically, but have you ever considered the effects it can have on your mental well-being? People who have asthma also report having mental health issues and vice versa. They wonder if one condition causes the other. Researchers are exploring these mind-body connections.
Around two to five of every 10 individuals who have asthma also struggle with depression. Since asthma is a difficult condition to manage, this is understandable. With asthma, you may feel anxious about engaging in physical activity, and this could mean missing work or school. But anxiety or depression can increase your risk for asthma.
One study with over 18,000 adults found that those who experienced severe depression, anxiety or stress in their childhood had a greater risk of having asthma. According to researchers, experiences like these could harm a child’s immune and nervous systems, resulting in asthma later in their lives.
Since mental health problems like anxiety or depression can affect every aspect of your life and make it difficult for you to take care of yourself and manage your asthma effectively, they require attention.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) 2015 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS):
Long-term control and prevention are important in preventing asthma attacks before they start. Treatment focuses on learning how to recognize your triggers, working towards avoiding them, taking medication and tracking your breathing to keep symptoms under control. If you have an asthma attack, you’ll need a quick-relief inhaler like albuterol.
There are several factors your doctor will look at to determine the right medication for your asthma. These may include your symptoms, age, triggers and what seems to work best to keep your symptoms under control.
Preventive, long-term control medicine reduces airway inflammation that triggers your asthma symptoms. Bronchodilators and other quick-relief inhalers open swollen airways up quickly. You may require allergy medications in some cases.
Long-term control medications are the mainstay of asthma treatment, and you typically take them daily. From day to day, they keep your asthma under control and help prevent you from having an asthma attack. Conventional long-term control medicines may include:
Doctors usually prescribe inhaled corticosteroids first for long-term asthma control. They are a highly effective long-term treatment for the swelling and inflammation that causes your airways to be sensitive to particular inhaled substances.
Side effects of inhaled corticosteroids may include:
Systemic effects might occur in high doses.
Other types of long-term control medications may include:
These medications help open your airways. When combined with inhaled corticosteroids, you can improve asthma control. You shouldn’t take inhaled long-acting beta2-agonists by themselves for long-term asthma control — they’re meant to be combined with inhaled corticosteroids.
You take these medications by mouth. They work by blocking the chain reaction that increases airway inflammation.
You also take this medication by mouth, and it helps open your airways.
Like any medication, there may be side effects of long-term control medication. Consult with your physician about these side effects and how you can avoid or reduce them.
These medications are fast, short-term relief for your symptoms you experience during an asthma attack. You’ll also use them before you exercise if your physician advises you to. Types of quick-relief medicines include:
During an asthma attack, a quick-relief inhaler eases your symptoms immediately. However, if your long-term control medicines are properly working, you will most likely not need to use quick-relief medications very often.
Side effects of quick-relief medications may include:
The type of quick-relief medication you receive is based on symptom changes your doctor will assess thoroughly each time you visit.
If you’re not familiar with how cannabis and asthma affect your body, you may think it’s counterintuitive to use it. After all, many people associate cannabis with smoking, which most people know has a negative impact on your lungs. However, evidence suggests certain compounds in medical pot may help alleviate your asthma symptoms.
Marijuana has anti-spasmodic, anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory properties, making it ideal for treating asthma for some people. The herb may also address certain issues with conventional treatments such as inhalers.
According to a 1976 study, THC acts as an immediate and effective bronchodilator in asthma patients. Researchers in the study administered THC in patients as an aerosol spray at a mere 1/5 of a milligram dose.
In 1970, experiments of medical weed showed that although tobacco causes your airways to narrow when smoked, smoking cannabis opens up your airways. During a study, eight patients with asthma did exercise and methacholine challenge tests. Following the challenges, researchers treated the patients with:
Out of these, short-acting beta-agonist and marijuana immediately opened the patients’ airways.
Marijuana and asthma therapy can help with several asthma symptoms, including:
While pain is not typically a main symptom of asthma, certain studies show up to 76 percent of asthma patients feel pain in their chest during an attack. A sharp stabbing or deep ache sensation gradually develops during an asthma attack over the first couple hours characterizes pain associated with asthma, and as the attack recedes, this pain dissipates slowly.
Although no specific studies investigate medical marijuana’s ability to treat asthma-related pain, some studies have noted subjective improvements in patient’s pain after using cannabis treatment. Researchers found the analgesic and bronchodilatory effects of particular cannabinoids to be useful in managing pain associated with asthma by decreasing constriction and pressure in the lungs. Medical cannabis for asthma also acts directly at the pain-sensing nerve cells, or nociceptors, themselves.
Medical marijuana is widely known as a powerful anti-inflammatory. A primary way weed treats the symptoms of asthma is by repressing inflammation of the respiratory system and opening the passages. This effect reduces shortness of breath and coughing.
Although most people think the effects of smoking cigarettes and smoking cannabis are similar, marijuana effects on your bronchial passages are different from cigarettes — opposite even. Tobacco cigarettes constrict your airway passages causing your asthma symptoms to get worse — cannabis opens them.
The Journal of the American Medical Association published a 2012 study that found that asthma sufferers who smoked cannabis moderately increased the function of their lungs and didn’t suffer any lung damage like tobacco cigarettes cause.
Another thought is that marijuana’s ability to decrease involuntary contractions, or muscular spasms, plays a huge role in managing bronchoconstriction while in the middle of an asthma attack. The bronchioles and bronchi consist of smooth muscle. When you’re experiencing an asthma attack, they narrow, contract and become inflamed.
Researchers, in a 2014 study, obtained the bronchial lung tissue from 88 study participants and applied electrical field stimulation to it, causing muscle tissue to contract. Researchers then administered the endogenous cannabinoid 2-AG, THC and a variety of CB-receptors type I and II synthetic agonists. They found that some CB-1 receptor agonists in particular, including THC, helped reduce muscle contractions. The endogenous 2-AG cannabinoid had no effect, they noted.
Cannabis can regulate anxiety and stress. Stress contributes to asthma symptoms. Using marijuana for asthma to relieve this stress can help decrease asthma in patients, particularly when they’re going through periods of heightened anxiety and stress.
Marijuana is effective at regulating stress and anxiety. Since stress is a contributing factor to asthma, this benefit of marijuana makes it unique among other asthma treatments.
A Brazil 2015 study showed that the CBD in cannabis reduces the mucosal production in asthma. It decreases cytokine production of mucus in the lungs.
Which strain of marijuana is best for easing your asthma symptoms? Since medical pot contains over 80 different cannabinoids all affecting various areas of your body and brain, you’ll need to experiment before you find the perfect strain for your individual asthma case. If you have access to a medical marijuana-friendly doctor, they might recommend certain strains. But if you don’t, here’s a list you can start with.
Cannabis for asthma has the potential to ease many symptoms patients experience, regardless of which method they use. However, this doesn’t mean all the methods of consumption are equal in efficiency. Furthermore, it doesn’t mean they’re all entirely harmless either. Important things to consider when deciding on your method of marijuana treatment use for your asthma are:
While smoking medical weed is still an option, it does depend on how severe your asthma is, since smoking could trigger an asthma attack or escalate one. Because of this, you may want to consider other methods of use.
For instance, you can consume edibles, also called medibles, for long-term asthma treatment since they have certain variables, like the time they take to produce effects. They may not be appropriate for providing instant relief during an attack. A good option for emergency treatments could be vaporizing. Vaporizing releases cannabinoids in your body quickly while reducing any risk to your lungs.
To the healthy human body, smoking medical marijuana isn’t harmful. But when suffering from asthma, you have to watch out for anything that can compromise your respiratory system.
For more news and information on using medical marijuana for asthma, choosing your perfect strain and getting started with an effective cannabis treatment plan, search for a medical marijuana dispensary or doctor today. Join Marijuana Doctors today to get started finding qualified physicians in your area.