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Medical Marijuana and Emphysema

What Is Emphysema?

Emphysema is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which is a chronic lung disease. The emphysema form of the disease causes slow destruction of the lungs and often leads to death. There is no cure for it, but the most common known cause is the smoking of tobacco. Secondhand smoke and environmental toxins can also contribute to the disease. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease takes some time to develop, so symptoms may not appear until it is well progressed. It is important to pay attention to all of the following symptoms so treatment can be obtained. Immediate tobacco cessation is also helpful.  Symptoms of emphysema are frequent respiratory infections, difficulty breathing, rapid heart rate and blue or gray coloring beneath the nails. As the disease progresses, shortness of breath can occur even while a person is just sitting. They may also experience weight loss, lowered bone density and eventually such difficulty breathing that end of life care is necessary. There is no way to repair the damage caused by emphysema. The walls of the lung become damaged, thus decreasing the oxygen flow to the rest of the body.

Medical Marijuana and Emphysema

Emphysema Symptoms and Medical Marijuana 

Treatment for emphysema includes inhaled or ingested anti-inflammatory medication, steroids, oxygen therapy, antibiotics to eliminate respiratory infections that may cause more damage, avoiding all kinds of smoke, surgery to remove diseased parts of the lung, lung transplants and diet changes. Treatment for complications, such as collapsed lung and pneumonia, may also be warranted. 

As mentioned above, there is currently no known cure for emphysema. While medical marijuana is known to be an efficient treatment for a number of conditions, there is no evidence at this time that it can cure emphysema. Therefore, individuals should follow the advice of their physicians when trying to stem the progression of emphysema and make life more comfortable. Medical marijuana and marijuana derivatives may help with some symptoms. However, smoke should be avoided by emphysema sufferers at all times. Therefore, inhaled marijuana should not be considered as a treatment for emphysema. Luckily, there are several other methods of obtaining the medicinal components of marijuana without having to inhale it. It can be eaten, taken as a pill, injected and even administered topically. 

Lung diseases like emphysema can cause pain while breathing. Treatment for this pain will depend on the severity of it. Mild to moderate pain can be treated with medical marijuana. Both THC and the non-psychoactive cannabinoids in medical marijuana have been shown to act as pain relievers in various studies. Studies conducted at the University of California, San Francisco, showed that marijuana cannabinoids could decrease pain in chronic pain sufferers, thus decreasing the amount of potentially hazardous medications they must ingest to be pain free. A double-blind study utilizing placebo controls showed that THC administered with codeine in cancer patients offered much more pain relief than those who were given a placebo rather than THC. 

Emphysema Symptoms and Medical Marijuana Studies 

There is increasing research and study into the efficacy of marijuana for inflammation, particularly concerning Chron's disease, which is often debilitating. The very first study published on the topic showed that there was a significant reduction in symptoms, need for other medications and even surgeries among patients who were given medical marijuana to treat their Chron's disease. With this success has come the idea that medical marijuana can help with other forms of inflammation and it appears that certain components of the marijuana plant can do just that. As inflammation can increase difficulty breathing in patients with emphysema, it follows that medical marijuana may prove an effective treatment for emphysema and other chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases in that regard.

Interestingly, inhaled marijuana can act as a small airway bronchodilator, which is a treatment for conditions like asthma and emphysema.  According to one study, the effect lasts at least two hours. The problem with this treatment is that inhaled marijuana is not a treatment option for individuals with emphysema. However, vaporized marijuana is considered much safer and may eventually be widely considered a safe alternative by the medical community. It is certainly a safer alternative, but whether it is a safe replacement for existing bronchodilators in emphysema patients remains to be seen. The goal is to prevent damage to the lungs and other treatments may be more helpful in that area, despite the fact that medical marijuana definitely works. The benefits have to outweigh the risks and the medicine chosen must be the safest possible.

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